Bitdefender is an antivirus company based in Romania. Having come from humble origins in the ‘90s, it’s grown to be one of the biggest names in cybersecurity, with the help of its strong numbers in malware protection tests and its powerful free subscription tier.
We’ve already covered much of the antivirus service in our Bitdefender Antivirus review. Today, we’re doing a deep dive on one specific feature: Bitdefender VPN. It cannot be downloaded or used on its own; you’re required to have a Bitdefender Antivirus Premium subscription before you get the virtual private network, and you might have to pay even more to unlock its full potential.
Bitdefender does not have its own network of VPN servers. Instead, the service piggybacks on the server network, protocols and encryption established by another VPN, Hotspot Shield (see our Hotspot Shield review for more details).
For our Bitdefender VPN review, we tested its features, interface, security capabilities, customer service, streaming performance and more. We discovered that it’s inconsistent about the things it does right — for example, it gets into Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and BBC iPlayer, but not Netflix or Hulu — and downright lacking in other areas.
Don’t expect to see it on our best VPN list anytime soon. We recommend, instead, that you check out a choice from that list, like ExpressVPN, for a strong stand-alone VPN service.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Extensive customer service options
- Strong security & encryption
- Convenient if you already have Bitdefender Antivirus
- Unlocks Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer & Disney+
- Almost no features
- Cannot be bought as stand-alone
- Doesn’t accept cryptocurrency
- Privacy concerns
- Few server locations
- Doesn’t unlock Netflix or Hulu
Alternatives for Bitdefender VPN
- : PayPal, Credit card, wire transfer (EUR only)
- : 10
- : No
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : PayPal, Credit card, Cash, Bank Transfer, Bitcoin, bitcoin cash, Swish
- : 5
- : No
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 8
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
Some VPNs have very few features because the developers aimed for a streamlined and user-friendly experience, but then overshot the mark (read our TunnelBear review for an example). Bitdefender VPN is not one of these. Every part of it feels like an afterthought.
Here at Cloudwards, we like to share screenshots to give you a sense of the app’s power, without claiming that we’ve shown you the entire thing. That’s not the case here. Our screenshot constitutes almost all of Bitdefender VPN’s feature set.
As you can see, you can set Bitdefender VPN to open as soon as you log in to your device. You can also toggle whether you get notifications about the service. The screenshot is from the Mac version; on Windows, you can also set Bitdefender to automatically activate when you connect to an unsecured WiFi network.
That’s it; no kill switch, no split tunneling, no option to name trusted WiFi networks. Forget about changing protocols or using the VPN as a browser extension. At least you get the malware protection of your Bitdefender Antivirus subscription. For the polar opposite experience with a VPN that has a fantastic set of features and a VPN that really works, check out our ExpressVPN review instead.
Bitdefender VPN Features Overview
- : PayPal, Credit card, wire transfer (EUR only)
- : No
- : 10
- : No
- : 1,300+ servers in 25 Countries
- : Windows, MacOS
- : Android, iOS
- : Chrome, Firefox, Safari
- : No
- : No
- : No
- : 256-AES
- : Catapult Hydra
- : No
- : 24/7
- : 24/7
- : 24/7
Bitdefender VPN requires you to have a Bitdefender Antivirus Premium subscription first, but even with that requirement, it’s surprisingly well-priced for three or fewer devices. For more devices, you’ll save much more with a stand-alone VPN service like Surfshark that offers unlimited device subscriptions (see our Surfshark review for more).
The following Bitdefender packages include the VPN service. You can get discounts on all of these by buying more than one year at a time. A 30-day trial and 30-day money-back guarantee are available on all of them.
- Unlimited devices, malware protection
- Three devices, password manager, file shredder, ransomware remediation & phishing protection
- Three devices, parental control, file encryption, firewall, webcam protection
- Five devices, multi-platform, device optimizer
- 10 devices, priority support, unlimited VPN traffic
If you have any of these packages, the VPN is included. However, you’ll still need to pay to unlock the Premium VPN features. Here’s how the VPN tiers work:
- 200 MB per day, Unlimited bandwidth, Same number of devices as your Bitdefender Antivirus subscription, included in any Bitdefender Antivirus package
- : Unlimited
- Same number of devices as your Bitdefender Antivirus subscription
- : Unlimited GB
- : Unlimited
The Premium VPN rates look great compared to many other VPNs, but don’t forget you’re paying that price on top of whatever you paid for Bitdefender itself. For example, if you got the VPN through Total Security for five devices, add $3.75 every month.
Once you do that, the cost falls into line with most other VPN services. If you get Bitdefender only on one device, this is actually one of the most cost-effective VPNs, but that solution is available only for Windows users.
The payment methods are pretty limited. It supports only credit cards, PayPal and bank transfers internationally — no cryptocurrency (just like Encrypt.me). In the U.S., you can also send a check or pay cash at a 7-Eleven or Ace Hardware location, though the website is extremely light on the details of how. Frankly, we’d rather have bitcoin as an option.
Ease of Use
Bitdefender VPN is very easy to use, but so is a fork. Calling a fork “user-friendly” is a bit misleading: it’s got so few features, the designer would have to really go out of their way to mess it up.
It’s exactly the same with Bitdefender VPN. One button comprises 90 percent of the UI. Whatever problems this VPN service has, they don’t come from being difficult to use.
Installation and Setup
Installing Bitdefender VPN was a bit of a mess. First, we had to install Bitdefender Total Security, using instructions that didn’t match what we were seeing.
After working that out, the whole package took about five minutes to download. Then we had to go into our system preferences and allow the package to finish downloading, a diversion that didn’t do anything until we quit the installer and relaunched.
Then we had to create an account. After that, we were finally allowed to boot up the antivirus app and go searching for the VPN. We found it under the “privacy” tab (see below).
We do this sort of thing for a living, so it wasn’t a problem for us, but it’s easy to imagine somebody who isn’t particularly tech-savvy getting turned off very quickly.
This itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the fact that people who aren’t computer-savvy are prime targets for malware, scams and privacy invasions. Convoluted installation processes should be considered a security risk, which means Bitdefender has a weakness early on.
Bitdefender VPN User Interface
If you’ve already read the “features” section, you’ll know Bitdefender VPN has almost nothing going on. All you can do from the main page is connect or disconnect, upgrade your account to the Premium VPN, open the menu or change your server location.
If you’re using the Basic VPN that comes with a Premium Bitdefender antivirus package, you can’t even change your location, but can only connect automatically to the fastest server. Attempting to change this setting results in a full-page Premium VPN ad you can’t click away from.
In fact, despite the paucity of features, this UI offers three different opportunities for you to upgrade to the Premium VPN. It quickly starts to feel like the only purpose of the Basic VPN is to advertise the better paid version.
It might sound like we’re being overly harsh, but this product is supposed to keep you safe. Cramming it full of upselling is like putting ads on seat belts. Bitdefender VPN is competing with the best free VPN services out there, and with antics like this, there’s no reason for a Total Security user to bolster their security with the Windscribe or TunnelBear VPNs instead.
If you want to see what it looks like when a user interface is well-organized around a wide range of features, check out our CyberGhost review.
Performance took a major hit with Bitdefender VPN, no matter what server we connected to. Upload speeds plunged in several normally trustworthy locations, which leads us to believe that the VPN’s U.S. and UK servers, in particular, are under a huge amount of strain.
In the United States, which should have been a gimme, latency increased by more than 10 times and download speeds plunged. Upload speeds took a major hit, as well, meaning this VPN causes a major drag when streaming video or sending files. With latency like that, we can’t recommend it for gaming, either. Try one of our fastest VPNs, instead.
As we stated in the intro, Bitdefender VPN is not powered by Bitdefender itself, but by Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield uses AES-256, the standard, government-grade encryption that can’t be cracked without a supercomputer and about 10,000 years of free time. So far, so good.
The complication comes with Hotspot Shield’s chosen protocol, Catapult Hydra. Developed in-house by Hotspot Shield’s parent company, AnchorFree, and chosen by several cybersecurity brands to power their add-on VPNs — including Bitdefender, McAfee and Cheetah Mobile — Catapult Hydra claims to be the fastest VPN protocol there is.
Given the speeds we got compared to other services that use OpenVPN or IKEv2, we’re skeptical that Catapult Hydra is much more than a marketing gimmick. We’re also suspicious of proprietary protocols, in general, since the whole point of a VPN is to keep interested entities from having any control over your online security.
Whether or not it’s faster, it is at least secure. We checked for DNS, IP and WebRTC leaks, and we found no vulnerabilities.
We have serious concerns about Bitdefender VPN’s privacy. It’s one of the few VPNs we’ve used so far this year to not have a strict no-logging policy, stating instead that “nobody will have access to your online logs.”
That makes us think Bitdefender is logging users’ browsing history and only promising to not release that information to third parties. It’s similar to what we’ve long suspected of TorGuard (see our TorGuard review to learn more).
As you can see, it’s a dense wall of text that seems designed to discourage reading. The gist is that using Bitdefender products might require you to transmit data about URLs and files infected by malware, and that Bitdefender will use info leaked in past data breaches to tell you whether a certain account or password has become unsafe.
Bitdefender at least seems to understand the responsibility of holding onto user data. However, that’s not very reassuring, as its promise not to let anyone see logged information will only last until a government subpoena or enterprising hacker comes along. We much prefer the Hide.me VPN’s approach of not saving any data at all (see our Hide.me review for more).
Netflix immediately detected Bitdefender VPN when we started watching a show. The same thing happened on Hulu. On BBC iPlayer, we managed to get around the block, but the streaming speed was so slow that shows were hard to watch.
We were also able to watch shows on Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, but with the 200 MB daily data transfer limit, it isn’t possible for Basic-level users to watch more than 10 minutes of TV.
However, using the Bitdefender Premium VPN level is a perfectly good way to catch up on The Mandalorian or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on your business trip to Toronto. If you want a truly excellent streaming performance, though, NordVPN is the way to go (see our NordVPN review).
The free version of Bitdefender VPN only gives you the option to connect to whichever server has the fastest connection. The Premium VPN version includes servers in 26 countries, though it doesn’t specify how many servers are located in each.
The available countries are heavily focused on Western Europe, though South America and Asia are also reasonably well-represented.
We scoured the internet for more specifics about Bitdefender VPN’s server offerings, but couldn’t find any information. However, we can say that 26 countries is not many. We don’t like VPN Unlimited much, but if you read our VPN Unlimited review, you’ll see that even this VPN has servers in more than twice as many countries.
Bitdefender isn’t mainly a VPN service, so the fact that there aren’t many help options specifically for the VPN is excusable. The troubleshooting help in the knowledgebase is high quality, if a little hard to find, and there are lots of options for getting in touch with a real, knowledgeable support person.
Choosing “support” from the VPN window’s preferences menu opens the Bitdefender support center in a browser window. The first page you’ll see is a basic “how-to” for your version of Bitdefender VPN.
From there, finding the rest of the knowledgebase is not easy. You have to navigate to an unassuming menu and find a small link within it, as shown below.
It’s easier to just pick “help” from the main Bitdefender Antivirus window, but from there, you have to navigate through the whole knowledgebase to find the articles about the VPN. There aren’t many, but they’re detailed and helpful.
Bitdefender also offers help through email, live chat, phone calls and a forum. The forums aren’t very active, but it’s something we like to see anyway.
When we asked a question on live chat, we were first in the queue and were talking with support within a minute, despite the fact that the whole Bitdefender Antivirus ecosystem shares the same platform. English-speaking phone lines are open 24 hours a day and are answered equally fast, while lines in other languages are open during local business hours.
Bitdefender VPN isn’t just feature-poor, it’s a little insulting. It seems to have been thrown together to hook people who already use Bitdefender Antivirus on the assumption that they’ll care more about the convenience of bundling two services together than they will about a VPN they can actually use.
The biggest sign of this is Bitdefender’s decision to base its VPN on Hotspot Shield’s network, rather than building its own. Although this saved some effort, it locked Bitdefender VPN into a small server network and an unproven protocol.
On top of all that, it has the gall to relentlessly advertise a Premium VPN upgrade and make the entire VPN service basically useless without that upgrade. Bitdefender is a respected name in security, so it should really be above these used-car dealership antics.
If you want the other features of Bitdefender Total Security or Bitdefender Internet Security, this VPN isn’t so bad that it should change your mind. However, we recommend keeping the VPN turned off and getting a free service from Windscribe, instead. Read our Windscribe review to learn why.
What are your experiences with Bitdefender VPN? SHare them in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.
Bitdefender VPN FAQ
When Should I Use Bitdefender VPN?
If you decide to use it -- and we aren’t saying you should -- it’s best for people who are already using Bitdefender’s other products. If you have the Premium VPN service, you should turn it on whenever you plan to connect to the internet through any app. If you’re working with 200MB of data per day from the free Basic version, turn the VPN on only for potentially sensitive actions, like sending files or making purchases.
Is the VPN Free With Bitdefender?
Bitdefender VPN comes free with higher-level Bitdefender Antivirus packages, including Bitdefender Total Security, Bitdefender Internet Security and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. However, the free version allows only 200MB of data transfer every day and prevents you from choosing your own server.
Is Bitdefender Safepay Really Safe?
Bitdefender Safepay is a browser designed for users to make financial transactions in a safe environment. It gives users the option of routing all traffic through Bitdefender VPN. It’s extremely secure, running all web apps in a “sandbox” feature while also protecting you from keylogging malware. Security is one thing Bitdefender knows how to get right, so we’d call Safepay a safe bet.
What VPN Does Bitdefender Use?
Bitdefender VPN is powered by Hotspot Shield, another VPN company that sublets its network out to antivirus providers (McAfee and Cheetah Mobile are also customers). Hotspot Shield runs on the proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol with 256-bit encryption.