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Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: Very fast but distinctly limited

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2.50
a month (one device, 12-month subscription)

Quick and user-friendly, but streaming support is poor and you only get the full feature set on Windows

Pros 
Decent performance
Simple, clean interface
Generous 60-day guarantee
Cons 
Poor cross-platform support
Inflexible licensing
Doesn’t work with most streaming services
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Malwarebytes is best known for its antivirus software, but since 2020 it’s also offered its own VPN service. Like all VPNs, Malwarebytes Privacy works by encrypting your internet connection and anonymously forwarding your traffic through one of the company’s secure servers. That way, your online activity appears to come from a different location and it can’t be traced back to you.

As a fairly new service, Malwarebytes Privacy isn’t quite as developed as its rivals. For one thing, the software is only available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS – there’s no native support for things like Chromebooks or Amazon Fire TV devices, nor can you protect such devices by setting up the Malwarebytes VPN on your router. There’s no companion browser extension for controlling the VPN while you’re surfing; the setup routine does offer to install a plugin for Chrome, Edge and Firefox, but this is only for blocking ads and trackers.

The server list is modest too, running to 34 countries, mostly in Europe and North America. South America is represented by a single server location in Brazil, while the vast continent of Africa is overlooked entirely. To be fair, the selection available will work just fine for most people, but it looks a bit limited when ExpressVPN gives you a choice of 94 nations around the world, and HMA offers a staggering 219 countries and territories.

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Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: How much does it cost?

Most VPNs offer a range of pricing plans, but with Malwarebytes it’s an annual subscription or nothing. Actually, that's not strictly true – there are also two-year options, but they don't come with any discount so it's hard to see the point. 

A single-device subscription costs £30 per annum, equivalent to £2.50 a month, while the three-device option costs £35 and five devices come to £40 a year. Those headline prices compare fairly well with other VPNs, but the device limits are decidedly ungenerous. PIA, for example, gives you 10 connections for £32.49 a year, while SurfShark offers two years of protection for unlimited devices for £48. And if you want to switch from one device to another, Malwarebytes requires you to pedantically deregister the first via the website before you can activate the second.

Still, it’s reassuring to see that the company advertises a long 60-day money-back guarantee. And new subscriptions start off with a seven-day free trial, so you can cancel during that period with zero fuss by simply flicking a switch on the website. Our only minor gripe here is that you’re required to provide a justification for not continuing the service, which feels pushy.

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Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: What’s it like to use?

The first time you open the Malwarebytes Privacy VPN client for Windows, it offers you a quick tour of the available features. That’s nice but unnecessary, as the front end is straightforward. The main window opens in the lower right corner of your screen, showing a big on/off switch for the VPN, details of your selected server and an illustrative map. The cog icon opens up three tabs of easy-to-understand options, including settings for the auto-connect feature and a toggle for the kill-switch function that blocks all internet access if the VPN connection is lost.

The final view is the server list – which in our view is a little too uncomplicated. It presents a scrollable list of geographic locations, but offers no indication of relative speed, no way to mark your favourite servers and no options to search, filter or reorder items. You can’t switch servers from the system tray icon, either, although you can use its right-click menu to quickly connect to whichever server was previously selected.

On Android, the Malwarebytes Privacy app looks almost identical to the main page of the desktop app. Tap to pick a server and you’ll see the available locations laid out in the same basic list format. However, almost none of the connection settings of the Windows client are available: your only option is to toggle always-on mode on and off. This is very disappointing for a full-price VPN.

We were also slightly unimpressed by Malwarebytes’ customer support provision. Malwarebytes offers a live chat service, but it’s only available Monday to Friday, between 9am and 10pm. At the weekend you’re stuck with a chatbot that merely directs you to the online documentation, or invites you to log a support request and wait for a human to email you back.

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Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: How fast is it?

Using a VPN always entails a certain performance overhead, but some services are faster than others. To test the performance of Malwarebytes Privacy VPN, we used the Google Speed Test tool over a home broadband connection – a 200Mbits/sec fibre line from Virgin Media.

We did this first with a Windows 11 laptop, connected to the router over Wi-Fi 6. With the VPN disabled we were getting download speeds of 211Mbits/sec; after we’d connected to a server in London, this fell to 170Mbits/sec. That’s plenty of bandwidth for almost anything you’re likely to be doing, but it’s a bigger slowdown than we're used to seeing: most VPNs we’ve tested have managed around 200Mbits/sec when connecting to a UK-based server.

In fact, switching to Malwarebytes’ New York server actually caused download rates to speed up a little, this time hitting 174Mbits/sec. This is a much more respectable performance, but still hardly exceptional: the best speed we’ve seen in this test was from NordVPN, which hit a magnificent 196Mbits/sec.

We then repeated our tests using a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Android tablet, again with a Wi-Fi 6 connection to the router. With the VPN disconnected we achieved a download speed of 208Mbits/sec, very similar to what we’d seen on Windows – and this time connecting to a UK-based server had almost no impact on download speeds, which fell to 201Mbits/sec.

Repeating the test with a New York server saw speeds fall further to 113Mbits/sec, but that’s absolutely par for the course for an Anrdroid VPN. The best speeds we’ve seen on this platform were from ExpressVPN, with 124Mbits/sec.

While Malwarebytes doesn't win any prizes for speed, it's more than fast enough for most things you’re likely to want to do. To maximise overall performance you can use the split-tunnelling feature to send only traffic from selected apps over the VPN, while everything else continues to use your full-speed ISP connection. Sadly this the feature is once again only available on Windows.

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Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: Is it good for file-sharing and video streaming?

When we first tried out Malwarebytes Privacy VPN in 2021, the company website stated that the use of BitTorrent was supported “for legitimate reasons”. Now all mention of file-sharing appears to have vanished – so while BitTorrent does currently work, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be shut off at some future date.

The website also makes no particular promises about unblocking geo-restricted streaming sites – and for good reason. On Windows, we were able to watch BritBox and US Netflix via servers in the appopriate nations, but we couldn’t get into BBC iPlayer, Disney+, or Now TV without disabling the VPN entirely.

Things were even worse on Android – here we were once again able to access Netflix’s US library, but none of the other services was accessible with the VPN active.

Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: Is it secure?

As you’d hope from the very name of the product, the Malwarebytes privacy policy hits all the right notes. The company promises not to collect any details about the sites and servers you connect to, nor any information about your device itself or how much data you’ve been sending and receiving.

The Windows client also has a reasonable set of in-app protections. It can automatically engage the VPN when you connect to an open wireless network, and in addition to the regular kill switch, there’s a nice option to specify that specific apps should be fully blocked whenever the VPN isn’t connected. You can configure multi-hop routes, too, to further obfuscate your true location. It’s a poor show however that these useful features aren’t available to Mac users, or on mobile devices.

What's more, since Malwarebytes is based in California, your use of it effectively falls under US jurisdiction. We’ve seen numerous reports of the American authorities compelling companies to capture and hand over information about individuals of interest, which could then be passed on to the UK. If you really need to conceal your activity, consider a VPN in a more neutral territory such as the British Virgin Islands, whose legal privacy protections have attracted ExpressVPN, SurfShark and PureVPN to make it their base of operations.

Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: Should you buy it?

Malwarebytes Privacy has definite plus points. Performance is fine, it’s easy to use, it has some smart features and, if you’re seeking an annual subscription for up to five devices, it’s not unreasonably priced. There are also discounted bundled deals that include the Malwarebytes Premium security suite, although that’s not a product we tend to recommend.

Unfortunately, all of Malwarebytes Privacy’s best features are Windows-only, and compared to other VPN services it’s short on servers, inflexible in its licence management, mediocre when it comes to customer support and of very limited use for video streaming.

Moreover, even if these numerous issues were addressed, the core privacy promise would always be slightly undermined by the simple fact of the company’s US location. Sadly, therefore, no matter what you want from a VPN, there’s undoubtedly a service out there that will serve you better.

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Malwarebytes Privacy VPN review: Quick facts

Based in:USA
Cheapest price:£2.50 per month (one device, 12-month subscription)
Money-back guarantee:60 days
Devices; Simultaneous1, 3 or 5 depending on subscription
Servers:400+
Speed:Very fast
24/7 customer support:No
Netflix and Disney+:Yes / No
BBC iPlayer:No
Torrenting allowed:Yes
Killswitch:Yes
Multihop:Yes
DNS leaks:No
Activity logging:No

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