Product Reviews

Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN

Kaspersky Secure Connection is a low-cost, easy-to-use and torrent-friendly VPN service aimed at home users and the networking novice.

This focus on non-technical users became obvious from the moment we first looked at the website. It contains almost no details on the number of countries or locations available, the supported protocols, DNS issues, kill switches or anything faintly low-level.

Although one reason for this could be that there’s not a lot to talk about. Secure Connection is powered by Hotspot Shield underneath, and offers 18 locations spread around the world (Europe, US, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Singapore). There are a few settings to configure whether you’re automatically connected when you access insecure wireless networks, but for the most part, options are kept to an absolute minimum.

Kaspersky Secure Connection has an extremely limited free plan where you can’t choose your location and are restricted to 200MB of traffic a day (300MB if you register). It’s not a lot of use, but then it’s also more than you’ll get with most of the competition, and at least it allows you to sample the service without risking any cash.

Signing up for the £3.99 ($5) monthly plan gets you unlimited data use, full access to all locations and support for up to five simultaneous connections.

At the time of writing, the annual plan is available for an appealing £1.67 ($2.10) a month – limited or not, that still looks like a very good deal.

Privacy

It’s always difficult to know whether you should trust any VPN provider with your privacy, and this is especially true with Kaspersky. The September 2017 announcement that the US government would be removing Kaspersky software from government systems doesn’t inspire confidence.

The statement doesn’t provide any kind of evidence, though, and the main focus of the concern seems to be Kaspersky’s antivirus software. Kaspersky Secure Connection doesn’t have the same kind of access to files, and the company doesn’t control the underlying VPN network, either: it’s powered by the California-based Hotspot Shield.

Should you be concerned? We can’t say, but as there’s currently no sign of wrongdoing on Kaspersky’s part we’re not going to allow these issues to influence our review.

We’re more interested in Kaspersky’s logging policy, but the website barely mentions the issue beyond a single line on the front page: “Kaspersky Secure Connection won’t log what you’re doing online and won’t keep any records of which websites you visit.”

While that sounds definitive, it’s not the whole story. Although Kaspersky says it doesn’t track where you’re going online, as with many services, it records plenty of information about your connection sessions.

Some of this is very normal. The service supports five devices, for instance, so we know it must be tracking connections and associating them with an account. And it has a bandwidth-limited free account, which tells us it can record the amount of data used in individual sessions.

Other elements are more surprising. Use Secure Connection for a while, then view the Statistics page in your My Kaspersky portal, and you’ll find a record of your VPN sessions so far: the start time, end time and the VPN server you accessed, and the bandwidth used per day. The report doesn’t display the incoming or outgoing IP addresses, but it seems plausible that Kaspersky would record those, too.

None of this can tell anyone exactly what you’ve been doing online, but it does provide a trail. If an investigator spots dubious actions from a Kaspersky Secure Connection IP at a specific time, and they can get the necessary court papers, and access those logs, there’s a chance they can link the actions to your account.

Bear in mind that session logging isn’t unusual. Many providers do something similar, but just don’t bother to spell it out. If you’re using the VPN to protect simple browsing and email then it won’t matter very much, but if anonymity is vital then Kaspersky Secure Connection might not be the right service for you.

Performance

Getting hold of the free Kaspersky Secure Connection edition is straightforward. The package comes bundled with some Kaspersky products, or you can grab clients for Windows, Mac or Android.

Signing up for the commercial product takes a little more work, as the company demands your name and physical address as well as your email address.

Once you’ve bought a licence, the Kaspersky site displays an activation code you can use to enable all the Secure Connection features. You can’t simply enter it into the client, unfortunately – you must log into your My Kaspersky web console, find the product, browse to the licences, and manually add the activation code. It’s a little fiddly and awkward, but at least you only have to do it once.

The Kaspersky Secure Connection client is either incredibly simple or horribly limited, depending on your point of view.

If you’re looking for user-friendliness then you’ll appreciate its straightforward approach. By default the client selects the fastest server automatically, but you can also choose from 18 countries on a list, then connect and disconnect with a click. It’s all very obvious and even a total VPN novice will figure it out within a few seconds.

If you’re looking for features, it’s a little different. You can’t choose servers within a country, for instance. There are no latency figures or indications of server load, and no Favorites system to easily recall commonly-accessed locations.

It’s much the same story with client settings. There are options to fire up the VPN when Windows starts, or when you connect to insecure or untrusted wireless networks. But there’s no way to change protocol, set up custom DNS settings, configure a kill switch, or do anything else even faintly technical or low-level.

The client does have some usability plus points. You’re not forced to manually close the connection before you can switch to another server, for instance. You can browse the location list at any time and connect to any new location immediately with a click. That may sound trivial, but if you’ve experienced the hassle of switching locations with some VPN clients – click Disconnect, click a tab, choose a location, return to the original tab, click Connect – you’ll appreciate how much easier this is.

We started our performance tests with Secure Connection’s free plan. This chooses a location automatically, which might affect speeds (we were connected from the UK to the Netherlands), but our overall experience wasn’t bad at all. Download speeds ranged from 24 to 32Mbps, comparable with the best of the commercial competition.

The commercial version allowed us to select our own location. We opted for our closest server in the UK and saw even better speeds, with downloads hovering around 40Mbps. Connecting to European servers also gave us excellent performance, often up to 30Mbps, and the US servers typically managed a very acceptable 18-24Mbps.

Both the free and commercial tools did a capable job of protecting our privacy, too. Tests showed no sign of any DNS, WebRTC or other leaks, and our anonymity was preserved at all times.

Final verdict

Fast, cheap and easy-to-use, Kaspersky Secure Connection could be a sensible choice for novice users with basic security needs. But more experienced types looking for features and configurability, or who are worried about the session logging, might be better off looking elsewhere.


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