Proton VPN NetShield Review 2024: The Shield Your Privacy Deserves?

Experience unparalleled browsing safety with Proton VPN NetShield, your protection against ads and online threats.
3.8
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Proton VPN NetShield's website

VPN
Proton VPN NetShield
  • Blocks malicious domains and trackers
  • Excellent DNS leak protection
  • Doesn't block all ads, including YouTube ads
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Many of the best virtual private networks (VPNs) come with unique features like ad and tracker blocking. One of those VPNs is Proton VPN, a well-regarded player in the realm of cybersecurity. Proton VPN comes with NetShield, which blocks ads, online trackers, and malware, making it a viable option for enhancing your browsing experience.

In this review, we’ll do a deep dive into Proton VPN’s NetShield feature and test for its ability to block ads, trackers, and malware.

Pros
  • Blocks malicious domains and trackers
  • Open-source technology
  • Excellent DNS leak protection
Cons
  • Doesn't block all ads, including YouTube ads
  • Only available in the browser app

NetShield is a powerful add-on that comes bundled with paid Proton VPN plans. If you want to learn more about all the features you'll get with the plan, read our comprehensive Proton VPN review.

In this article
Overview
Our experience
Features
Test results
Prices and subscriptions
How to use
Alternatives
FAQs
Bottom line: Is Proton VPN NetShield good?

Proton VPN NetShield overview

Ads blocked on Forbes 3
AdBlock Tester score 71/100
Cover Your Tracks score 2/3
Can You Block It score1/3
Does it block YouTube ads? No
Whitelisting availableNo
Blacklisting availableNo
Compatibility Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, iPadOS
Paid version Starts at $4.49/mo
Details Visit Proton VPN
Test results as of 04/24/2024.

How we test and rate ad blockers

Each ad blocker we review goes through a standardized test designed to push the limits of what the software is capable of. This includes vigorous third-party testing using websites like adblock-tester.com, coveryourtracks.eff.org, and canyoublockit.com. We also visit popular websites to test the ad blocker’s day-to-day capabilities, including watching YouTube videos and browsing Forbes.

Once we’ve completed the testing, we calculate our editorial rating by taking into account key features you’d expect from a good product. We score each ad blocker in the following categories and use a weighted average to calculate the final rating out of 5 stars:

  • Price
  • Test scores
  • Features
  • Browser support
  • Editorial score

Our experience

Our experience of the NetShield ad blocker was good in terms of having additional privacy, but subpar when it comes to actual ad blocking. Since it uses Domain Name System (DNS) filtering to block domains that are known to host ads, it casts a broader net that is more easily bypassed. You'll also notice that while some ad images are blocked, you'll still be able to see the space on the screen where the ad was meant to load.

Blocked ad still shows its empty block
Forbes ad is blocked on the right, but its empty container remains.

While the DNS filtering helps keep us free of malicious domains and some rudimentary ads, there are a lot of ads that snuck through the cracks. This includes Flash and HTML5 ads, but perhaps the biggest downside of all is you can't block YouTube ads.

The VPN software itself was intuitive and affordable, which reminds us that NetShield is just one piece of a larger privacy bundle. That said, when looking at it as a standalone ad blocker, it unfortunately falls below the mark of what we're looking for. You'd likely be better off using a browser-based ad blocker to supplement the types of ads that NetShield just can't catch.

As is common with DNS filtering, you may run into some broken site functionalities as non-malicious features accidentally fall casualty to NetShield's domain-based filtering. Luckily, you can set NetShield to only block malware, which will help you stay clear of things like spyware, but allows less malicious ads through. Of course, you'll still need an ad blocker at this point.

So overall, Proton VPN NetShield is easy to use, has good intentions, but may cause more issues than it helps. It certainly isn't worth getting Proton VPN for if you don't care for a VPN, but is nice as an addition to the overall package.

Main features

Proton VPN is equipped with much more than just ad blocking. For example, its DNS leak protection is amongst the strongest on the market, ensuring that any requests sent out are secure and anonymous.

Proton VPN's open-source technology is also a major benefit if you want to make sure your data is safe. By making the source code of its software available for public review, developers can identify any potential vulnerabilities and address them accordingly. The integrated firewall also provides an elevated level of protection, which is powered by a collaborative effort with pfSense, one of the most trusted names in firewalls.

DNS leak protection

A DNS leak is when you're hiding your IP address via a VPN connection, but you're still using your DNS server to connect to websites. Because of this mismatch between your IP and DNS, it's obvious that you're masking your location and your ISP can see which websites you visit. When you're connected to a Proton VPN, all your domain requests are resolved by dedicated DNS servers. This means your DNS information is encrypted too, not just your IP.

We tested out this claim using a DNSleaktest.com, and the results were favourable:

A DNS leak test showing positive results for Proton VPN NetShield

I'm not located in Montreal and ProtonVPN is not my ISP, so NetShield passes the test.

Phishing protection

Navigating the internet comes with its set of perils, phishing being one of the predominant ones. Luckily, Proton VPN NetShield provides anti-phishing and anti-spam mechanisms.

Setting up the anti-phishing features was relatively straightforward. NetShield adds an extra layer of security to your online interactions, helping you avoid falling prey to scams and fraudulent activities. It is equipped with a built-in filter that automatically blocks malicious sites without compromising the performance of your device.

NetShield alerts you of potential phishing attempts, allowing you to navigate safely without any hitches. You can also customize the settings to enable or disable anti-phishing features with a single click. The system will intelligently scan for redirects and malicious links, ensuring an additional layer of protection to block malware.

Firewall

NetShield offers a firewall feature integrated with pfSense. This integration takes security to a new level, providing comprehensive protection to your device and any device connected to your router. By establishing a Proton VPN connection through your router, every device under its umbrella has a fortified security barrier.

Setting up the firewall feature is a somewhat lengthy process and might appear complex if you’re unfamiliar with networking setups. However, Proton offers a detailed step-by-step guide tailored for different versions of pfSense (2.4.5, 2.5.x, and 2.6.x) to help you create a smooth setup process.

The firewall can effectively combat a wide range of cyberthreats, from malicious code and viruses to spyware and phishing threats. It can also help you manage your internet access by applying content filtering rules. By monitoring network traffic, it’s possible to detect and restrict suspicious activities like the spread of ransomware or illegal downloads.

Proton VPN interface with the Netshield setting to block malware, ads, & trackers on.

Proton VPN NetShield's test results

We tested Proton VPN NetShield to gauge its effectiveness in various scenarios. We tested for ad-blocking capabilities, tracker-blocking capabilities, and antivirus protection effectiveness.

AdBlock Tester Cover Your Tracks Can You Block It
Proton VPN NetShield score 71/100 2/3 1/3

Test results as of 04/24/2024.

In our quest to evaluate Proton VPN NetShield’s ad-blocking features, we utilized three renowned tools:

  • AdBlock Tester assesses the efficiency of blockers in filtering various types of ads that you may encounter during a typical browsing session.
  • EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool helps evaluate how well the service protects your data from tracking scripts and cookies websites employ to gather user data.
  • CanYouBlockIt tests the ad blocker against more vigorous ads, including ones using flash, interestitial ads, and banners.

Though NetShield got an okay 71 score on the Adblock Tester, there were two areas where it didn't perform as well. First, NetShield failed the Banner Ads test, and it was flagged as not having done enough to effectively block banners and other intrusive advertising. This could lead to an unpleasant browsing experience as you’re bombarded with unwanted ads or malicious content.

The second area where NetShield failed was in Sentry Error Monitoring. This is an important service that helps developers track and debug any errors. NetShield doesn’t block these trackers, so the developers will still be gathering information of your time on the site.

Proton VPN Netshield's AdBlock Tester results showing that it failed to block sentry error monitoring.

When it came to the Cover Your Tracks test, NetShield was able to block both tracking ads and invisible trackers, which is good. Unfortunately your fingerprint is still unique when using the ad blocker, which means there's enough bits of information passed through to make it possible to identify you among everyone who uses your browser.

Proton VPN Netshield's Cover Your Tracks test results showcasing it provides strong protection against web tracking.

Finally, when NetShield was pitted against the CanYouBlockIt test, the downsides of DNS filtering reared its ugly head. I was still blocked by a giant interstitial ad, though the actual content of the ad was blocked. That means there was just a black box blocking my screen with a small X in the top right for me to click.

It failed a similar test when it came to banner ads, succesfully blocking the images but still leaving the content blocks and alt text visible where the ads would be.

Proton VPN NetShield failing the banner ads test

Does Proton VPN NetShield block YouTube ads?

No, NetShield doesn't block YouTube ads in our tests, including pre-roll, mid-roll, and banner ads.

Canadian Tire ad showing up before a YouTube video

This is because Proton VPN uses DNS filtering to block ads, which means it blocks on a domain level. YouTube hosts all its ads, so in order to block the ads, you'd have to block YouTube (the domain). If you did that, you wouldn't be able to see any YouTube content at all.

Bypassing paywall test

NetShield was also unable to bypass any paywalls we tested, both on high-profile sites like The New York Times and softer paywalls on local news sites, like the Reading Eagle.

This isn't surprising, though, since even the best ad blockers have trouble bypassing these paywalls.

Proton VPN NetShield antivirus test results

Test Proton VPN NetShield score
Malware detection Pass
Phishing detection Pass

Test results as of 08/12/2023.

To determine how well NetShield’s antivirus capabilities work, we turned to the reliable methods provided by the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR). This institute is renowned for offering standardized ways to assess the protection capabilities of antivirus software. Following their guidelines, we conducted the EICAR test to evaluate NetShield's malware and phishing detection proficiencies.

Upon conducting the test, NetShield passed the malware and phishing detection segments with flying colors. This illustrates that the service offers solid detection and protection against potential cyberthreats.

Proton VPN NetShield prices and subscriptions

Proton VPN offers one paid plan, called Proton VPN Plus, which gives you access to all premium features. You can choose between three different lengths of subscriptions starting at $9.99/mo, with the price gradually decreasing to $4.49/mo the longer you commit.

Though ProtonVPN does offer a free plan, NetShield is only available on the paid version.

Plan 1 Month 1 Year 2 Years
Price per month $9.99/mo $4.99/mo $4.49/mo

How to use Proton VPN NetShield

Accessing NetShield is only possible through the app, not the browser extension. Once you have the app installed, here's how you can enable the built-in ad blocker:

  1. Connect to a VPN server of your choice. You can do this by clicking "Quick Connect" in the upper left corner of the app, or by choosing a specific server in the list of servers below the button.
  2. Once you're connected, click on the shield icon that shows up next to your other options.
  3. Proton VPN connected to a server but with NetShield disabled

  4. Click the option that says Block malware, ads & trackers.
  5. Proton VPN NetShield enabled

  6. NetShield is now enabled.

Clicking the shield will now show you an estimation of how many ads and trackers were blocked, as well as an estimate of how much data you saved by not loading the ads.

Proton VPN NetShield showing the number of ads blocked during the current session

You'll also be able to see a summary of the number of ads blocked displayed next to the purple shield (which will eventually hit 99+). These numbers reset every time you disconnect from a VPN server.

Top alternatives

While Proton VPN is one of the top VPN services, it's not the best ad blocker. The market is brimming with capable VPNs that have ad blocking capabilities and can cater to various demands.

Below, we've highlighted a few commendable alternatives to Proton VPN NetShield, plus a standalone ad blocker you can use if that's your priority.



Threat Protection

CleanWeb
Best for Best for blocking YouTube ads Best overall Best for blocking streaming ads
Price Starts at $1.99/mo (billed annually) Starts at $3.09/mo (billed every two years) Starts at $2.29/mo (billed biennially)
Free version?
Adblock Tester score 100/100 93/100 96/100
Cover Your Tracks score 2/3 2/3 0.5/3
Can You Block It score3/3 2/3 3/3
Blocks YouTube ads?
Compatibility Android, iOS, Chrome, Edge, Safari, Opera Threat Protection:
Windows, macOS

Threat Protection Lite:
Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Chrome, Edge, Firefox

Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, FireTV
Learn more Get Total Adblock Get NordVPN Threat Protection Get Surfshark CleanWeb

FAQs


+

Is Proton VPN actually safe?

Proton VPN has stringent security features, including AES-256 encryption and VPN protocols like OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard, ensuring that your browsing activities remain confidential.


+

Does NetShield block YouTube ads?

NetShield works to block a variety of ads; however, its ability to block YouTube ads may vary due to YouTube's advanced ad embedding algorithms.


+

Is NetShield free?

Although Proton offers a free VPN subscription, NetShield is only available with a Proton VPN Plus subscription.


+

Which is better, NordVPN or Proton VPN?

The "better" option between NordVPN and Proton VPN depends on individual preferences and needs. Both are reputable services offering a range of features, with NordVPN noted for its speed and extensive server network and Proton VPN recognized for its user-friendly interface and security features.

Bottom line: Is Proton VPN NetShield good?

Proton VPN NetShield’s ad-blocking functionality is a nice addition to its VPN features, but it doesn't hold its own as a standalone ad blocker.

Because it uses a DNS server to filter out known domains that host ads or trackers, it casts a much broader net than your standard extension ad blocker. This means it won't be able to block ads on YouTube without also blocking key features of the site.

This also means that while a lot of the advertisement imagery is blocked from loading, you'll still be able to see empty blocks where the ads would have displayed, which can still be a distracting experience.

If you're looking for an ad blocker that creates a much more seamless ad-free experience to compliment your Proton VPN experience, check out our list of the best ad blockers available.

3.8
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Proton VPN NetShield's website
VPN
Proton VPN NetShield
  • Blocks malicious domains and trackers
  • Excellent DNS leak protection
  • Doesn't block all ads, including YouTube ads
Author Details
Ryan Clancy is a freelance writer and blogger. With 5+ years of mechanical engineering experience, he's passionate about all things engineering and tech. He loves bringing engineering (especially mechanical) down to a level that everyone can understand.
Kalleigh Lane is a passionate digital security advocate and the Lead Editor at All About Cookies. After completing her Master of Arts in English Literature, Kalleigh has gained over 5 years of editing and writing experience in the fields of cybersecurity, tech, and finance. She has been featured in major media outlets such as The Globe and Mail and CTV News, emerging as an advocate for digital security.