McAfee has not yet been able to transfer its antivirus success to the VPN space. Curious as to why?
Then you’re in the right place. Our hands-on McAfee Safe Connect review will reveal all. We test countless VPNs every week, so we don’t let the biggest names faze us.
By the end of this review, you’ll know all there is to know about McAfee Safe Connect. This includes:
- What is McAfee Safe Connect?
- Is McAfee Safe Connect a good VPN in 2020?
- How fast is McAfee Safe Connect?
- Does McAfee Safe Connect unblock US Netflix?
- How much does McAfee Safe Connect cost?
But this only scratches the surface. By the end of our comprehensive McAfee VPN review, you’ll know all about Safe Connect’s logging policy, its chosen VPN protocol, its jurisdiction, and much more.
Before all that, let’s check out the good and the bad of McAfee Safe Connect.
McAfee Safe Connect Pros & Cons
McAfee Safe Connect Key Summary
|Top Download Speed||88Mbps|
|Logging Policy||Intrusive Logging|
|IP, DNS or WebRTC Leaks||No|
|Jurisdiction||US (Five-Eyes Member)|
|Works in China||No|
|Support||24/7 Live Chat|
|Cheapest Price||$4.99 over 12 months|
Our testing has found McAfee Safe Connect to be an awful choice for anyone looking for a VPN, despite its fast speeds and torrenting capabilities.
Want to know more? Read on for the full, totally comprehensive McAfee VPN review — beginning with an in-depth investigation into its ownership and logging policies.
Who is McAfee Safe Connect?
About & Logging
McAfee Safe Connect is owned by McAfee LLC, the cyber security juggernaut.
McAfee LLC is named after its infamous founder, John McAfee, who left the company in 1994.
Since leaving, John McAfee has frequently denounced the company, boldly calling its product line “the worst software on the planet.”
Since his departure from the company, John McAfee has been on the run after a suspected homicide, started a company selling Belizean natural antibiotics, ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign, and is running again in 2020.
It seems his separation from McAfee LLC is not too much of a miss for both parties.
In the following years, McAfee LLC was purchased by Intel in 2011 for $7.76 billion, with the chip maker still holding a minority stake in the company.
Since 2017, however, McAfee has been owned by American private-equity firms TPG Capital and Thoma Bravo.
Thoma Bravo is no stranger to the cybersecurity domain, having recently expanded its foothold with the purchase of British-based antivirus provider Sophos for $3.9 billion in October 2019.
McAfee LLC itself is now valued at over $5 billion and even owns popular VPN service TunnelBear, which it acquired in 2018.
Like its parent company, McAfee Safe Connect is based in the US, within Silicon Valley. As a result, McAfee shares an illustrious base with some of the most colossal names in technology. Sounds great, right?
No. This really could not be much worse. The US is a downright awful location to base a VPN provider.
The US is part of the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance, meaning it shares surveillance data with the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
On top of this, McAfee is subject to the intrusive legal policies of the US, such as the infamous PRISM surveillance program, which allows the US government to surveil online communications from US-based technology companies.
More worrying, though, is the Stored Communications Act (SCA). This law grants the US government the ability to seize a VPN user’s information if that information has been retained.
This is particularly concerning with Safe Connect, as McAfee logs almost everything.
Safe Connect does not keep your connection safe, after all.
McAfee’s logging policy is one of the worst we’ve ever seen.
McAfee collects the following information:
- Your IP address
- URL and domain names in your browsing history
- Your purchase history, your hobbies and interests, your photographs, and your biometric data
- Device information, such as the device’s battery level, location information, hardware type, and ISP
- Information about other devices connected to your network
McAfee retains this information indefinitely, only removing it in the event of an account deletion. Even then, the data is still kept for 30 days.
McAfee also provides this information to other companies owned by McAfee, third-party advertisers, and the ambiguously-described “service providers who perform services for us.”
After we contacted McAfee, a representative did indeed confirm that Safe Connect is governed by the same rules and standards as all other McAfee products.
McAfee claims that this information is required “to help protect” users and “to run [McAfee’s] business”.
This is simply a lie. There are an abundance of VPN providers who are able to protect their users and run their business without engaging in such intrusive data collection.
All this adds up to betray the very reason you should be looking to use a VPN.
When using McAfee Safe Connect, you are not protecting your privacy — you’re handing it over to a multinational corporation to sell on to the highest bidder.
One of the fastest VPNs around
Speed & Reliability
Speed and reliability is the only area where McAfee Safe Connect really shines. In fact, McAfee Safe Connect is one of the fastest VPN providers we’ve tested.
This is because McAfee Safe Connect utilizes Hotspot Shield’s proprietary Catapult Hydra technology — a limited but super speedy VPN protocol.
Connecting to a local server from our base in London, we saw just a 10% drop in our download speed and an 8.73% drop in upload speed. This is seriously impressive.
Speed results from our physical location in London (100Mbps fiber optic connection) to a London test server.
Before using McAfee Safe Connect:
When connected to McAfee Safe Connect:
Speeds remained impressive on international connections. We saw a download speed drop of 37% when connected to an East Coast US server and just a 13% drop when connecting to the Netherlands.
In usual circumstances, we would be showering McAfee Safe Connect with praise, as these kinds of speeds would allow for the smoothest of US Netflix and Disney+ streaming.
But, frustratingly, McAfee Safe Connect proves so impotent at unblocking geo-restricted streaming services that its blazing fast international speeds seem redundant.
Using our 100Mbps fiber optic connection, you can view our speed test results connecting from the UK to various McAfee Safe Connect servers below:
USA: 62Mbps (download) & 46Mbps (upload)
Germany: 84Mbps (download) & 85Mbps (upload)
Singapore: 44Mbps (download) & 28Mbps (upload)
Australia: 38Mbps (download) & 30Mbps (upload)
If you want to read more about how we test VPN speeds, you can learn more about our thorough and extensive testing process.
Tiny server network spanning just 23 countries
McAfee Safe Connect’s number of server locations is one of the most limited around, with a grand total of just 23 countries.
This slim coverage is made even more disappointing as Safe Connect does not allow you to connect to city-level servers, a feature that we have come to expect from good VPN providers.
The meager selection of countries may be enough for you, though, as all the usual suspects are there.
Coverage is particularly concentrated in Western Europe and North America, with the US, Canada, the UK, France, Spain, and Germany all included.
Asia and Oceania are poorly represented, with just 5 server locations between them. Australia, India, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore are all attended to, though.
Coverage is truly abysmal in other areas, with Brazil being the only South American option and no servers in Africa.
McAfee refused to inform us about how many individual VPN servers and IP addresses there are and whether these servers are physical or virtual.
We were repeatedly told that server information was “information that cannot be disclosed to customers.”
We were not given a reason to explain this, which is particularly frustrating given how common it is for VPN providers to definitively state their server and IP address count.
If your home country is not covered, or if you’re a globetrotter that demands the most exhaustive server coverage, we suggest you check out HideMyAss.
HideMyAss has the largest choice of server locations by some distance. HMA includes 960 VPN servers in 190 countries, with 52 countries covered in Africa alone.
Doesn’t unblock streaming services, not recommended for torrenting
Streaming & Torrenting
Streamers should avoid McAfee Safe Connect.
McAfee Safe Connect was unable to successfully unblock any of the streaming services we tested, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and Hulu.
McAfee concedes this fact, stating “Netflix and Hulu […] might not work correctly over the secure VPN connection.”
More worryingly, however, McAfee’s customer service team were frequently surprised when we asked about Safe Connect’s streaming capabilities. They even asked why we thought using a VPN would unblock geo-restricted content.
As the company sees it, which has been reinforced in our testing, McAfee Safe Connect is simply not a VPN meant for streaming.
If you want a VPN for Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and more, check out our in-depth run-through of the very best VPNs for streaming.
We cannot recommend McAfee Safe Connect for torrenting, simply because of its invasive logging policy and lack of kill switch.
Without using a kill switch, you risk revealing your true IP address if your VPN connection drops for any reason. Alongside this, the sinister amount of information that McAfee Safe Connect logs could be effortlessly used to personally identify you.
This is a shame, as our tests showed torrenting to be allowed on all of Safe Connect’s servers and its fast upload speeds allowed for speedy P2P activity.
But torrenters should absolutely pick a no-logs VPN provider that also provides a kill switch instead.
To find out which VPN providers we do recommend for P2P activity, check out our rundown of the best VPNs for torrenting.
These providers combine the most watertight privacy policies with blazing fast speeds and no torrenting restrictions.
Won’t work in censored regions like China
McAfee Safe Connect cannot be used in heavily censored regions, such as China.
In order to bypass the so-called Great Firewall of China, VPNs need to employ clever obfuscation tools which mask VPN data and make it appear as regular HTTPS web traffic.
Only the very best VPN providers manage to consistently circumvent state-enforced restrictions, so it’s little surprise that McAfee Safe Connect falls short here.
McAfee Safe Connect lacks any of the required obfuscation tools and will therefore fail to bypass China’s, or any other regions’, censorship laws.
Even if that weren’t the case, Safe Connect’s overly intrusive logging policy means it would be a simply terrible VPN for use in highly-censored regions.
By logging your IP address, your device’s MAC address, your GPS location, and your biometric information, McAfee makes it as simple as possible for any government to identify you.
If you want to know what VPNs we do recommend for anyone living or traveling to a high-censorship country, check out our recommendations for the best VPNs for bypassing censorship.
Only available on Windows, iOS, and Android
Platforms & Devices
McAfee Safe Connect supports a very limited range of platforms and devices compared to other paid VPN providers.
Safe Connect supports:
On top of this, it’s not possible to manually install Safe Connect on a router, meaning there are no workarounds for unsupported devices.
As a result, Mac, Linux, Amazon Fire TV, and games consoles are all not included.
McAfee Safe Connect doesn’t come with any browser extensions either.
Frankly, though, for a paid VPN provider to have such minimal platform and device support in 2020 is really poor.
McAfee Safe Connect does allow up to five simultaneous connections, with the large caveat that it also only allows you to register a maximum of five devices to your account.
This means that you cannot register all your family’s devices and only connect when appropriate, like most other paid VPNs allow. Instead, you will have to be extremely selective in which five devices are to be registered.
No kill switch, unproven VPN protocol
Encryption & Security
Please see our VPN Glossary if these terms confuse you and would like to learn more.
McAfee Safe Connect runs on the somewhat secretive Catapult Hydra VPN protocol, making it a bit of a gamble when it comes to your online security.
The choice of Catapult Hydra concerns us for a few reasons. Firstly, McAfee does not state this is its chosen protocol anywhere. When we asked, multiple support agents stated this was simply “information that cannot be disclosed to customers.”
Virtually all other VPN providers definitively state their chosen VPN protocol, including those who also use Catapult Hydra, such as Hotspot Shield and Kaspersky Secure Connection.
As a result, McAfee’s secrecy makes us immediately suspicious, and for good reason.
In 2018, a major security flaw in Catapult Hydra was discovered by independent security researcher, Paulos Yibelo. This flaw meant that user data, such as a user’s country and the name of their WiFi network, could be accessed by a third party.
In conjunction with other publicly available data, this information could then be used to locate and personally identify a user.
A fix for the security flaw was quickly issued, but the fact this initially slipped through the net points to the larger problem of Catapult Hydra. It’s still not transparent enough.
By contrast, our preferred VPN protocol, OpenVPN, has been around since 2011 — having much longer to prove itself and to refine its methods through its open-source community. If you wish to read more about why we endorse OpenVPN, check out our expert guide to VPN protocols and encryption.
Our biggest concern, however, is that McAfee Safe Connect lacks a kill switch on all platforms.
A kill switch is a feature that blocks your web traffic in the case of a dropped VPN connection. This means that your IP address could be exposed if this happens when running Safe Connect, jeopardizing your online privacy.
There are no advanced security features like split tunneling or manual port selection, either.
More pleasingly, McAfee Safe Connect utilizes the AES-256 cipher. This is the method of encryption favored by most major VPN providers and has proven to be virtually unbreakable.
Safe Connect also passed our IP and DNS leak tests. This is shown in the image below, where we are connecting to an East Coast US server from our base in London.
However, despite the use of AES-256 and IP and DNS leak protection being encouraging, this still falls far short of redeeming the shortcomings of Safe Connect’s encryption and security quality.
Simply, we cannot trust McAfee Safe Connect to keep your online activity anonymous and neither should you.
Simple to set up and use but not enough configuration
Ease of Use
How to Install & Set Up McAfee Safe Connect
Downloading the McAfee Safe Connect app on mobile is simple — just search for it in your device’s app store.
For Windows, the process is a bit different. Head to the direct Windows download link and the download should start automatically.
From there, the installation process is as simple as following the on-screen steps.
Once installed, the McAfee Safe Connect app is appealing and a pleasure to use, despite its plainness.
We particularly liked the app’s tutorial screen which nicely explains and locates key features of the VPN.
As a whole, the apps are user-friendly and are definitely geared more towards VPN newbies than experienced users.
The main screen is minimal, including a connect button and server list. This screen displays some useful information at a glance, such as connection time, data transfer and your WiFi/network connection.
Settings can be found on the app’s sidebar, but the options are far too limited for our liking. You can choose your language preference and whether or not the app should run on startup, but that’s it. More experienced users will certainly miss being able to fiddle with configurable options.
All this is not necessarily a bad thing, as McAfee Safe Connect is a dependable choice if you’re looking to connect and forget, which is the consumer base that might be swayed by the McAfee branding.
But if you want a bunch of configurable options and advanced features, you will want to look elsewhere.
If you’re an advanced user craving a VPN service that allows you to meddle around with advanced settings, then check out AirVPN. You can read more about AirVPN in our expert review.
Always available, never helpful
|24/7 Live chat support||Yes|
Despite being convenient with its 24/7 availability, McAfee Safe Connect’s customer support is really poor.
McAfee shares one knowledge base for its entire suite of products, but of 360 total articles, only eight of them mention Safe Connect.
Like with the rest of Safe Connect, it proves here again to be the neglected child of McAfee.
Safe Connect does have a phone number which you can contact, but we were told on two separate occasions that we would be called back and these calls never came.
Frustratingly, the live chat disconnects multiple times during a conversation. It will reconnect, most of the time, but we completely lost contact a few times.
McAfee Safe Connect shares a support infrastructure with the broader McAfee product line and it’s clear the agents have not been adequately trained to deal with the VPN product.
The support agents were unable to answer routine questions, like whether Safe Connect could be used to bypass geo-restricted content and how many total VPN servers there are.
On top of this, Safe Connect seems stifled by the legacy baggage of McAfee. For example, you are forced to provide your full name, email address, and phone number before initiating a live chat.
For a product that exists to protect your personal information, the requirement to provide information that can be used to personally identify you is self-defeating.
The Safe Connect support agents are also extremely heavy-handed in remotely taking control of your device. For example, we were asked to allow remote access after asking a simple question about access to US Netflix.
All of this is extremely off-putting and unnecessary. Especially for privacy-sensitive users, the thought of handing over your phone number and allowing remote access for basic issues might be a bit too much to swallow.
Overpriced for what you get
McAfee Safe Connect Pricing Plan
Given its relative lack of quality, Safe Connect VPN is not cheap. The McAfee Safe Connect monthly package costs $7.99, or you can halve the expense to $3.99 if you pay for a year upfront.
The annual package also has the additional bonus of being eligible for a 30-day money back guarantee, whereas the monthly plan is not.
These prices are fine, but certainly not great. For just 50¢ extra per month, you are able to get access to our third favorite VPN provider — IPVanish. You can read more about how IPVanish provides a much better bang for your buck in our full IPVanish review.
However, if you are interested in the broader McAfee product range, you can save a bit of money with McAfee Total Protection Ultimate. This bundle works out to be just $5 per month and includes access to Safe Connect, McAfee antivirus, McAfee’s password manager, and McAfee’s web protection software.
If you just want to test out McAfee Safe Connect, there is a decent free plan available. You’re not obliged to enter any email address or payment information to get access to the free tier — ensuring that you don’t get surprised by any unwanted outgoings on your next bank statement.
The McAfee support pages claim that the free plan only allows a VPN connection to your nearest server, but this is not true. We were able to connect to all 23 of Safe Connect’s servers, ranging from France to Singapore.
McAfee also state that the support options of live chat and telephone are exclusive to paid subscribers, but we also found this to be false.
However, the free tier does only allow a super-restrictive 250MB of data to be consumed each month.
This bandwidth limit is fine if you just want a quick feel of whether or not Safe Connect is the right VPN for you, but it won’t get you much further than that.
If you want to see what free VPN providers we do recommend, which combine good logging policies with adequate data allowances, why not check our rundown of the best free VPNs for 2020.
Do We Recommend McAfee Safe Connect?
The Bottom Line
No. Despite its big name and brand appeal, you should avoid using McAfee Safe Connect.
McAfee Safe Connect is a speedy VPN aimed at newbies who want a hassle-free way of hiding their IP address. Sadly, though, even for VPN amateurs, Safe Connect fails to provide the bare-minimum to make it a good VPN choice.
Most worrying is McAfee’s logging policy. The data that McAfee retains means you could end up handing over more information than you’re protecting with Safe Connect. This is made even worse by McAfee’s base in the US — one of the most privacy-unfriendly jurisdictions on the planet.
So long as McAfee continues to rest on its laurels and allow its VPN product to stagnate, you should avoid Safe Connect.
Alternatives to McAfee Safe Connect
Are you craving the simplicity of McAfee Safe Connect without the drawbacks? Look no further than Surfshark. Surfshark has some of the easiest to use and most intuitive apps around, meaning you can get online without the hassle. On top of this, Surfshark unblocks loads of major streaming services and costs under $2 a month on long-term plans. Read Surfshark review
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