McAfee Safe Connect Review

Pros:


  • Free Plan Available: Although it is
    offered for seven days, and comes with bandwidth limitation, it can be used to establish
    a VPN connection at the time of urgency or to test the service. It was stated on the website that it’s only for
    one device, and server switching is unavailable, but we haven’t experienced any
    such restriction.
  • Easy Sign up: You just need to download the application on your
    device, provide an email (not necessarily PII) and password, and it’s ready to
    start protection.
  • Cost-effective Annual Plan: Even though
    the monthly plan seems expensive ($7.99), the annual plan has a very less price
    in its comparison. You will be billed
    $47.88, and that means it’s just $4 for a month.
  • Live Chat and Phone Support: Customer
    support is the prime requirement for customer
    satisfaction. McAfee has added both Live Chat Support and Phone Support, but
    only for the premium users. They also
    provide instant help by asking us for the remote access to our devices.
  • Own DNS Servers: Appreciatively, they
    have their own DNS servers, and so, you don’t need to worry about the DNS
    request logging.

Cons:

  • Very Few Settings Options: When you will
    go through the “settings,” you won’t find the opportunity to make many changes.
    Hence, a user control can’t be expected
    while using Safe Connect.
  • Not Available for MacOS: Even though it
    is available for Windows, iOS, and Android, they do not have a client for MacOS which is one major limitation as
    many users prefer using MacOS above other operating systems.
  • Unreliable Connection: Sometimes it
    connects in less than ten seconds, sometimes in a minute, and sometimes it
    doesn’t connect at all. Because of that,
    the user needs to reconnect it again manually. It is not recommended if you are looking for a VPN application that
    connects fast with a consistent connection time.
  • Unacceptable Download Speed: We tried
    connecting to the VPN using various server locations, and maximum attainable download speed was nearly 25% of the
    original speed.
  • Can’t Find the Kill Switch: The customer
    support provided us the information that Safe Connect doesn’t have an internet
    kill switch. That means when it disconnects and reconnects or when the VPN
    connection drops, data leakage may
    happen. It is due to the outflow of data from the tunnel.

Overview

Main screen of the MaAfee Safe Connect

While McAfee is a prominent product from a
leading anti-virus software company, What we realized is, It isn’t highly safe
connecting to the VPN using McAfee Safe Connect. The reason is the jurisdiction that keeps its eyes on every citizen. The company McAfee LLC owns
McAfee Safe Connect which claims to protect the users’ data from the
third-parties.

However, it is
headquartered in the United States, and so, the company may provide our
data to the government.

There are multiple pores through which data
leakage may take place, and these must be filled
if the complete protection is required.

We will study each pore and learn how much compromise we need to do if we use
this service.

Not just this, there are some other aspects
which are compromised when this VPN
application. We will check the client also and bring forward the attempts that
the application has done to provide you a “Safe Connect.”

Servers

According to the website, they offer
eighteen virtual server locations. However, while using the client, we discovered that there are twenty-two
countries where servers are located. We
assume, this mismatch could be because, the company has recently upgraded their
network a bit but still haven’t updated the stats on official web page.

The number of total server locations is not mentioned, and you can only know about
the countries.

Also, for the free version, it is stated on
the website that they only offer ‘one optimized virtual location,’ but we were able to switch between different
servers. We were also able to establish a connection
with
every server
.

Hence, you don’t need to worry about the
server limitation while using the free version.

Out of twenty-two countries, twelve
countries are from Europe where servers are
placed. There is a possibility that there are multiple server locations
in any of these countries. But we don’t get the option to select them by our
choice. We can only select the country, and the application will select any of
the server locations present in that country.

Out of the other ten countries, three are
from North America, and in our experience, it is mandatory to have multiple
server locations to satisfy the user base of North America. Due to the large
area with huge VPN userbase, if there is a single
server location in the United States,
then the users won’t get acceptable speed.

Same for Canada;
large area and large user base requires multiple server locations. The provider
needs to place servers in all the directions for the users present in different
states.

For Asia also, four countries are selected
for adding servers. Four servers would be enough if the servers are maintained properly.

Well, if you are a VPN user from Oceania,
you may not consider downloading this application as there are no multiple
server locations in Australia, and hence, you will be left with low speed.

One server standing alone in isolation is placed in Brazil. However, this server could
be useful for North American users also. Hence, it’s a good move.

The only way by which you can connect to
the server is by manually selecting it or by clicking on the “Fastest Location.”
By selecting this option, probably your device will connect to the closest
server or the server which is having the lowest ping.

But, saying that that it would deliver the highest
speed won’t be true. You will know about this in detail in the “Speed Test”
section of our review.

Privacy Policy

Data Logging Policy as per Their Privacy Policy

When you go
through the privacy policy, you will discover ‘heavy logging,’ and that means
the company stores a large amount of
information about you if you are utilizing their service.

Especially for mobile devices, when you
install McAfee Safe Connect, you need to provide them a lot of permissions by which they get the access to your files.

Even for the desktop, there is no safety from the logging data. After installing
McAfee, besides the information you provide, it can also get its hand on your
IP, geo-location, device ID, networks to which you are connected, your ISP, and
much more information that you would not wish them to know.

They clearly state that one of the major
purposes of logging the information is advertising
and retargeting. McAfee shares an
identifier that is assigned to our device
which lets McAfee show advertisements according to the websites we visit.

This is the violation of prime
goal of a VPN provider
: to provide
privacy. Because of such heavy logging of data, we can’t rely on McAfee to protect
our privacy.

Connection Time Analysis

Trial No.Time taken to establish a connection (Seconds)
Average Time In Seconds26.41
113.52
28.52
3Error
48.97
58.01
648.58
757.21
8Error
910.78
1055.76

Just look at the table, and you can conclude yourself how reliable the
connectivity is. For the first trial, the application took 13.52 seconds which
is an acceptable connection time.

With the second trial, we experienced an
improved response as it was connecting in less than ten seconds.

However, the third trial was contradicting where
it showed an error that “connection cannot be established now” and asked us to
try again later.

Connection error

Sometimes, this may happen due to weather
conditions or system failures, and putting that in mind, we moved to the next
trial.

Results were excellent for the next two
trials, but after that, the connection
time increased significantly delivering one of the poorest connection times
till now.

It increased to 48.58 seconds, and this issue is unavoidable. With the next
trial, the response became even worse. It took nearly one second to establish
the connection for the fastest server option.

We thought that this could be because of
the selected server, but for the other servers also, the results remain the
same.

The only solution to this lies in improving
the client. After clicking on the “Start Protection” button, the application
stopped responding without forming a connection. After that, it automatically
worked and started reconnecting, and
that’s the reason why connection time was so high.

Also, it is not useful to discuss the
precision as it would be very low because of such a large range.

Bandwidth and Speed

For the free users, bandwidth limit exists
at 250 MBs for a month. We know that this much data will finish off with just a
good quality video of ten minutes, and thus, free trial can only be used to judge the client and its functionality.

Speed for various server options

According to the website, there is another
limitation for free users which is server selection. So, we were not expecting that
we will get the opportunity to test speeds provided by various servers, but
only for the automatically selected server.

However, we were able to switch among all the servers. Without
connection, the download and upload speeds were 27.59 Mbps and 26.65 Mbps
respectively. After clicking on “Start Protection” button, a connection was established with the server of our own
country.

This server was
considered as the fastest one according to the client’s algorithm. But
the results were telling a different story.

What we received was 7.29 Mbps download
speed which was 26.42% of the original speed. Because of this result, we were
not having high hopes for getting a good upload speed. But, the result was
surprising.

The upload speed delivered by this server
was 19. 75 Mbps and the reduction was of 24%. We can consider this speed
acceptable, but better output speed must be
provided if it’s their ‘fastest server.’

After this, we discovered that switching
servers is possible, but the data left
was limited. So, we sped up and connected
to the United Kingdom server.

And we are not really looking forward to connect to it again.

Download speed was 1. 72 Mbps and Upload
speed were 3.07 Mbps, and the reduction
in both the cases was more than 85%.

Different IP for US Connection

We moved towards the United States, but for
the first attempt, it was showing a non-US IP even after getting connected to
the United States server.

The second attempt worked, and the IP
changed to New York. Now, comes the speed test results which provided us with
the best outcome for the download speed.

It delivered the download speed of 7.46
Mbps which was higher than what we received by the automatically selected
server (with a difference of .17 Mbps).

But for upload speed, the result was even worse than the United Kingdom
server. It was the lowest upload speed obtained among all the trials. We
received a speed of 1.35 Mbps which is just 5% of the original upload speed.

So, looking at all the trials, it can be concluded that it’s better to
connect to the fastest server as both upload and download speeds were maintained at a good level.

Security

Even though they have their own DNS servers, it is useless as if not the
third parties then they themselves log
our information which we have already discussed in the “Privacy Policy”
section.

The information about the protocol is
neither provided on the website nor in the client. Generally, OpenVPN protocol
is best-suited options, and so, VPN
application prefers to set it as the by
default protocol.

But from the FAQ section of Hotspot Shield, we had discovered that there is a possibility that McAfee uses Catapult Hydra.

We can’t provide you the surety about this
as the customer care execute was himself
unaware of the protocol used.

Also, for Hotspot Shield and Kaspersky Secure Connection, which have implemented Catapult Hydra, the speed is astonishing, nearly equivalent speed before and after connection.

By taking this is a consideration, we can’t be hundred percent sure as the speed that
Safe Connect delivers is nowhere near to the equivalent speed.

The information about the encryption is
also not added anywhere, and we can just
assume it to be of high-grade considering the reputation of the company.
However, no concrete claim can be made
about it.

If the user wishes to enhance the security
himself with the help of configuring the client using the settings provided,
then he will be dissatisfied as there are
no features added related to security.

They don’t even offer a built-in kill
switch, and so, it’s not completely safe against the hackers who may attack the
device when the VPN connection drops.

When security is considered, it’s ironical
that the VPN’s name is Safe Connect, and it doesn’t have options to safeguard
the connection.

User Interface and Experience

Settings for protection

It’s simple and easy to explore. Best for
the users who just wish to encrypt the
data and hide their IP address from the ISP and other third parties.

With one click, all the data can be tunneled through the virtual private network
created by the application. As soon as you click on the “Start Protection”
button, it will automatically select the fastest server for you, and connect
your device to it.

You also get the option to choose amongst the
servers from the list of countries. However, you can’t select the exact server
location.

Also, there are
no other server selection, sorting or filtering options present by which the user can identify the required server.

The user interface contains a menu with five tabs, out of which only one tab
has options that allow us to make
changes.

In the settings tab, you get the option to
allow the VPN to connect automatically and add trusted network for which you
don’t need to use the VPN.

So, with no more features, McAfee Safe
Connect doesn’t permit its user to enjoy a customizable virtual private
network.

If they would have added some features related
to connectivity (Ex: Protocol and Port Selection), security (Ex: Kill Switch),
functionality (Ex: Split Tunneling), and server selection (ex: Sort by
Latency), then the user interface could be acceptable.

As of now, it’s very basic and needs a lot of feature additions to
satisfy the customers.

Platforms and Devices

Limited Platforms

The client is only available for Windows,
Android, and iOS. The application covers none
other than these platforms.

So, if you are a MacOS or Linux user, you will
be disappointed to hear that this product is not for you.

You don’t even have the option to install
configuration files on any platforms. That’s why
even OpenVPN GUI can’t be used for MacOS
and Linux.

If you are thinking of installing it on
routers, and then using it on your devices, no, it’s not possible as it’s not
even available for the mainstream router firmwares such as DD-WRT.

They also need to add browser extension
which may aid the users to have a secure browsing experience.

Customer Support

Safe Connect is owned by McAfee which has a
huge user base for its antivirus product which already has customer support of its own.

Setting up customer support for McAfee Safe
Connect would have been easy for them.

However, it’s among very few providers who
have phone support also in addition to live chat support.

It should be
noted that according to the plan description, the support is only for
the premium users, and free users can’t take advantage of it. But when we
contacted the support, they replied to our issue courteously within a few
minutes.

They even offer remote access support so
that they can check the issue themselves and solve it efficiently. We were not
expecting such a good support system for Safe Connect.

However, there was lack of information such
as knowledge about the encryption used by the application which the executive
doesn’t know. It also took some time for him to reply about the ‘DNS servers
query.’

If the chat disconnects in between, the
support can even contact you via calling. But it’s up to you if you are ready
to provide the PII or not.

From their end, no major disappointment
will be rendered, and remote access request shows that they are ready to help their
users in every possible way.

Conclusion

Apart from customer support, they need to
work on every attribute. They must start it by ‘disabling log collection’ as it
neglects the reason why we even use the VPN.

Adding features that offer more user
control should be the second thing.

After that, they must work on finding the
solutions for delivering better speed, probably by improving the server
infrastructure. There is no need to target for 90% speed of the original speed,
but it must be at least acceptable.

Then they can go on with adding servers,
and options to sort and filter them.

A long road to go it seems. But if we talk
about the current client, there are many elements which are missing and
recommending this product is something impossible.

If they start improving now, perhaps better
client can be delivered with several features, in addition to this amazing
customer support.

Kim Martin Administrator
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