NordVPN Threat Protection guide & review

NordVPN’s Threat Protection is a suite of tools designed to make your online activities safer and free of annoyances. Threat Protection sits at the crossroads between antivirus and an adblocker.

It comes in two flavors: Threat Protection and Threat Protection Lite (a stripped-down version). The former runs on Windows and macOS computers, while the latter runs on mobile devices and Linux computers.

This post provides an overview of Threat Protection on mobile and desktop, how to use it, and whether or not we recommend it.

NordVPN’s Threat Protection summary

Coming from one of the most established commercial VPN providers, NordVPN’s Threat Protection is a welcome add-on to its VPN service. It enhances your privacy and security by filtering out potentially malicious traffic. The antivirus can scan your downloaded files for malware and viruses.

Its mobile (and Linux) version, Threat Protection Lite, only provides DNS filtering to fend off malicious traffic and block ads. But despite its reduced feature set, it’s still effective at keeping your web surfing clean and free of annoyances and offers some measure of protection against malware.

In our testing, it worked very well, although its antivirus engine doesn’t seem as capable as a dedicated antivirus program. Still, it comes at no extra cost to NordVPN users, and while it may not be perfect, it does add an extra layer of security to your online activities.

Threat Protection pros and cons

Pros:

  • Provides extra security at no extra cost to NordVPN subscribers
  • Has antivirus capabilities
  • Can block ads, malware, and viruses
  • Scans downloaded files for anything malicious
  • Works on desktop and mobile

Cons:

  • Mobile version only includes DNS filtering
  • Linux only supports Threat Protection Lite
  • Antivirus engine is not as comprehensive as dedicated antivirus software

How does Threat Protection work?

Threat Protection comprises the following features:

  • Malicious domain blocking
  • Phishing domains blocking
  • Ad blocking
  • Malicious links blocking
  • Phishing links blocking
  • Tracker blocking
  • Malware scanning of downloaded files

Threat Protection Lite includes a subset of those features:

  • Malicious domain blocking
  • Phishing domains blocking
  • Ad blocking

NordVPN‘s Threat Protection (not Threat Protection Lite) works by transparently proxying your connection to inspect the URLs for trackers, malware, and ads. If it detects any of the above, it drops the connection; if it doesn’t, it lets it through unimpeded. The graphic below from NordVPN’s website illustrates this:

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Graph

Threat Protection Lite, on the other hand, is a DNS-based service commonly referred to as DNS blackholing. This works by referencing your DNS requests against a blocklist of ads and malware domains. If any match, they’re dropped. If they don’t, they go through.

Threat Protection is more comprehensive than Threat Protection Lite, given its antivirus and file-scanning features. However, because there are more technical limitations on mobile devices, features that require lower-level access to the operating system are more difficult or impossible to implement.

Still, both provide you with enhanced privacy and security online, and I recommend enabling Threat Detection on both desktop and mobile devices.

Using Threat Protection on Desktop

To use NordVPN’s Threat Protection on desktop:

  1. Sign up for NordVPN and purchase a subscription. Then, download and install the NordVPN app. Once downloaded and installed, launch the NordVPN app and sign in. I’ll be doing this on macOS.
  2. Click the Threat Protection icon on the left side of the app. The Threat Protection page is displayed. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Access Threat Protection
  3. There are two sections on the Threat Protection page: Threat Protection and DNS filtering. Enable both by toggling each feature’s switch to On. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Enable
  4. Threat Protection is now enabled. We can access the Settings tab to fine-tune how Threat Protection will work. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Settings
  5. I want everything enabled, so I’ll leave things as they are, but you can turn on or off whatever suits your needs here. You can also reset Threat Protection’s activities by clicking the Reset button (mine is greyed out because I haven’t done anything yet – i.e., nothing has been blocked yet).

Now that we’ve enabled and configured Threat Protection, let’s try out its different features.

Web Protection

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Web Protection

Web Protection is Threat Protection’s Ads, malware, and tracker blocker. It actively blocks threats and annoyances as you browse the web.

Web Protection includes the following:

  • Malicious URL blocker
  • Web tracker blocker
  • Ad blocker
  • URL trimmer (it shortens long URLs by removing unhashed tracking parameters)
  • DNS filter

If I select the Web Protection tab, I can see it has blocked three trackers so far: The Web Protection tab does not list connection attempts blocked by DNS filtering, only those blocked by the Web Protection proxy.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Web Protection List

I can click on the listed items to obtain more details.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Web Protection Details

I can choose to allow connections by clicking on the blue shield to the right.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Allow

Both Web Protection and DNS filtering block ads, trackers, and malware. But it’s still worth enabling both on desktop as they each work differently, and one might catch things the other missed.

Here’s a screenshot of an ad-laden website with Web Protection Off:

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Website Without TP

And here’s the same page with the feature enabled.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Website with TP

File Protection

NordVPN - Threat Protection - File Protection

File Protection scans the files you download for anything malicious, like an antivirus program.

File Protection includes the following:

  • Virus scanner
  • Double-extension detector: a lot of malware uses fake browser extensions
  • Cloud-based threat detection: an opt-in feature that uploads files to the cloud for more in-depth scanning when it can’t determine whether a file is malicious or not locally

I tested the antivirus on my Mac against malware samples from from the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research (EICAR), and it worked well:

NordVPN - Threat Protection - EICAR NordVPN - Threat Protection - Download Blocked

Things weren’t as smooth with Threat Protection’s scanning of downloaded files. We downloaded a compressed OPNsense ISO installer. As soon as the download was complete, File Protection scanned the file.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - File Protection Scanning

Unfortunately, it alerted us that the file couldn’t be scanned, without any details as to why.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Scan Failed

Clicking the entry for more details didn’t provide much more information.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Failed Scan Details

During our testing, this happened with more than one download.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - File Protection List

We finally got a successful scan when downloading a .html file.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - File Protection Successful Scan NordVPN - Threat Protection - File Protection Successful Scan Details

This was a bit disappointing. Other antivirus programs were able to scan all of the files that File Protection could not.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Other AV Scan 3 NordVPN - Threat Protection - Other AV Scan 2 NordVPN - Threat Protection - Other AV Scan 1

Threat Protection doesn’t claim to be a full-fledged antivirus, so that might explain it. Hopefully, as the feature matures, it will get better file-scanning capabilities. It still remains useful.

App vulnerability scanner (Windows only)

NordVPN - Threat Protection -Windows App Scanner

The Windows app has an extra feature not found in its macOS counterpart: App vulnerability scanning.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Windows

With the feature enabled, Threat Protection will automatically scan your installed programs for any software vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious actors. If any are found, you’re immediately notified so you can decide whether or not to uninstall the app(s) in question.

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Windows App Scanning

Now, let’s look at Threat Protection Lite on mobile.

Using Threat Protection Lite on mobile

To use NordVPN’s Threat Protection Lite on mobile:

  1. Sign up for NordVPN and purchase a subscription. Then, download and install the NordVPN app. Once downloaded and installed, launch the NordVPN app and sign in. I’ll be doing this on an iPhone.
  2. Click the Account icon on the bottom right side of the app. The Settings page is displayed. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Select Account Icon
  3. Select Threat Protection Lite. The Threat Protection Lite page is displayed. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Select TP Lite
  4. Click the TURN ON button. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Turn TP On
  5. You’re prompted to reconnect if the VPN is on when enabling Threat Protection Lite. Click Reconnect. NordVPN - Threat Protection - Reconnect
  6. Threat Protection Lite is now enabled. NordVPN - Threat Protection - TP Lite Enabled

Because Threat Protection Lite is limited to DNS filtering, there are no additional settings to configure. With the feature enabled, malware, trackers, and most ads should be blocked automatically.

Let’s test out the feature by loading a website that normally displays a lot of ads.

Here’s what it looks like with Threat Protection Lite disabled:

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Mobile Site Without TP Lite

And here’s the same page with the feature enabled:

NordVPN - Threat Protection - Mobile Site With TP Lite

Do I recommend using Threat Protection?

Absolutely. It’s a great feature – and if you’re already a NordVPN subscriber, you can enable Threat Protection at no extra cost. It isn’t perfect, particularly in regards to its antivirus functionality, but NordVPN doesn’t claim to offer a full-fledged antivirus client.

With Threat Protection, you’ll get an ad-free browsing experience and significantly lower your odds of downloading viruses or malware onto your device. Again, the feature is included in your NordVPN subscription by default. You’re under no obligation to use it, but if you ask me, you should.

NordVPN’s Threat Protection is highly recommended.

You can find information about Threat Protection on NordVPN’s website.

NordVPN Coupon
Up to 74% off + 3 months FREE
Get Deal >
Discount applied automatically