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Protect yourself from malware, evade online trackers, and block ads with Adblocker (NetShield)

Posted on January 14th, 2021 by in Service Updates.

An illustration of NetShield protecting your mobile device.

 

Today we’re releasing an exciting new feature that makes it easier for paid ProtonVPN users to keep your devices secure and your browsing private.

NetShield is now available on our Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows apps and is in beta on our Linux command line tool. It blocks malware, ads, and online trackers before they even load. This helps keep your device safe and improves your browsing speed. 

How Adblocker (NetShield) protects you

When you turn NetShield on, it offers you two levels of protection: 

  • The first level prevents your browser from loading resources from domains that host malware, spyware, or other malicious software. Malware protection is on by default.
  • The second level blocks ads and the online trackers that adtech companies use to target you in addition to malware.

If you want to use NetShield to block ads and have a faster and more private browsing experience, upgrade to a ProtonVPN paid plan.

Upgrade

When you enable NetShield, any time you try to go to a website, the ProtonVPN app will check that website’s address against a massive database of sites known to host malware, spyware, or any other malicious software. If it finds the domain of the website you are trying to visit or any of its components (scripts, images, etc.) on one of these lists, NetShield will automatically block it from loading. 

If you are a paid ProtonVPN user and enable ad blocking in NetShield, not only will it protect you from malware, but it will also block the annoying ads that clutter your screen. And unlike most popular ad blockers that only work in your browser, NetShield’s ad and tracker blocking works for the entire device. In addition to being annoying, these ads also eat up data and slow down your browsing experience.

With NetShield, you can enjoy a faster, ad-free internet and reduce your data usage.

How Adblocker (NetShield) works

To visit a website, you need to type in or click on a URL to get to the specific webpage you want. However, most people don’t realize there is a step between entering the URL and arriving at your desired webpage. That extra step involves making a domain name system (DNS) request.

Website URLs are created to be memorable for humans (e.g., www.protonvpn.com), but they don’t mean much to computers. They prefer IP addresses, (e.g., the IP address for ProtonVPN’s website is 185.159.159.140). The DNS is the system that translates a human-friendly URL to a machine-friendly IP address. When you type in a URL and hit enter, your browser automatically tries to match it to the correct IP address by sending out a DNS request.

To prevent DNS leaks that could let attackers track your online browsing, ProtonVPN encrypts all DNS requests in the VPN tunnel and handles them with a dedicated DNS server. 

Learn more about DNS leaks

If you enable NetShield, when your device makes a DNS request, the DNS resolver on ProtonVPN’s server runs a quick check against databases of web domains known to host malware, trackers, spyware, and any malicious software that could compromise your device’s security. NetShield checks not only the website’s domain, but also all additional domains for the scripts, images, and any other resources associated with that webpage.

If NetShield finds a match between your DNS request and this list, it stops the DNS request. This prevents you from loading the corresponding IP address and resource.

If you think a website or online resource is being blocked in error, you can turn NetShield off to access it. 

The system works the same for ad and tracker blocking, only NetShield checks your DNS request against a database of known advertising agencies and online trackers. These lists are continuously updated so they will block new ads and trackers.

ProtonVPN does not keep any logs of your DNS requests, so none of this data can be shared with any third parties.

Protect yourself with Adblocker (NetShield)

You can protect your browsing with NetShield today. You will need to have the latest version of the ProtonVPN app to use NetShield to block ads and trackers. (You can check for updates in the Settings or About section of the app.)

Learn how to use NetShield

NetShield is part of our effort to make safe online browsing easier and faster. Let us know what you think of NetShield on on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Linkedin, and Mastodon. And thank you to the ProtonVPN community. Without your support, advancements like NetShield would be impossible. 

Prior to joining ProtonVPN, Richie spent several years working on tech solutions in the developing world. He joined ProtonVPN to advance the rights of online privacy and freedom.

Post Comment

50 comments

  1. Joel

    Hello, I am currently using Raspberry Pi-Hole with Cloudflare DNS for this purpose. Can I replace it with NetShield? Is it more efficient?
    What do you recommend to me? (I am already a customer with you)

  2. Douglas Crawford

    H Joel. You’re probably quite well covered for DNS filtering with your setup. The main advantage for you for switching to NetShield is that it is, rather than Cloudflare, who will resolve your DNS queries. It will also be useful on mobile deices and suchlike, when you are away from your Pi-Hole.

  3. Douglas S Northrup

    I don’t remember how I changed my Protonvpn DNS to Open DNS, but when I look up the current DNS I get 10.18.0.1 I did a restore from a backup recently and I don’t know if the restore was before I had made the DNS change or not. How can I be sure that ProtonVPN is protecting me as it is intended? I’m not sure how to undo what I did or even if it’s necessary now. Thank you!

  4. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Douglas. In our Windows app, go to Settings -> Connection tab, and disable Custom DNS servers.

  5. barba

    Hello, why the mexico location vpn are not available now? ultil a few hours ago they were available, now it doesnt

    i want to hire your service but i need this location

  6. Douglas Crawford

    Hi barba. Our Mexico servers are currently under maintenance. Normal service will be resumed soon.

  7. ughh

    You rolled this feature out in an update, then rolled back the available update to a previous release and now the “What’s New” changelog goes from 1.17.6 to 1.18.5 with no mention of NetShield. Is it in the now current version (1.18.5)?
    Where do you post a detailed changelog?
    Please don’t start bloating your software.

  8. cbc

    Hi all,
    I am encountering numerous slow or denied connections to banks and merchant sites when using the Free version of ProtonVPN. Is there some way I can resolve the site’s fear of me as a “bot” or malicious evil-doer without disconnecting from ProtonVPN ? Is NetShield employed by the Free version and if so can it be turned on and off while online using ProtonVPN ? Would upgrading to “Basic” make any difference. What speed is offered by “Basic” ? Thanks

  9. Douglas Crawford

    Hi cbc. No, Netshield is a premium feature available to Plus and Visionary users. What you describe shouldn’t be happening, so please contact our Support Team for assistance.

  10. Douglas Northrup

    I had to change dns for protonvpn client to “open dns” in order for one of my apps to update. Does this affect my security in any way?

  11. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Douglas. I means that, instead of being sent through the VPN tunnel to be handled by us, your DNS queries are being handled by OpenDNS, a company known for keeping logs. Another issue is that OpenDNS does support encrypted DNS quires using DNS over HTTPS (DoH), but if this is not configured then your dns quires will be sent across the internet in plaintext (and will therefore be advisable to your ISP should it choose to look).

  12. Flip

    Is the list of the blocked content available somewhere? It would be helpful to see what is/is not on it.

  13. tuniek

    Hello,
    could You please upload a recent version of ProtonVPN android app into anF-droid? 🙂
    tuniek

  14. MB

    I want to add ProtonVPN Visionary for all of my family’s devices and am wondering if you can recommend an antivirus/anti-malware application that can be used with your products. For Windows machines, is it OK to use the Microsoft Defender? What about an iOS machine?

  15. Douglas Crawford

    Hi MB. We can’t comment on third party products, although Microsoft Defender provides good basic protection for Windows users. Apple does not recognize malware as problem on its iOS platform, and therefore does not allow anti-malware apps on its App Store.

  16. Mr. wiggles

    Will this feature be released to the fdroid version of the app?

  17. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Mr. wiggles. Yes.

  18. KB

    Is there a way to flag or give input to the block/non block lists? Whether on a group-overall level (curated by proton) or a individual in app good/bad (sub).domain.level.

    I find the ad-tracking blocker setting also prevents regular “outlook mailbox updates” in the iOS mail app. I know the web version of outlook is using a mixed bag/clutter of Microsoft domains, maybe that is also the scanner in the wheels here. Changing and reconnecting is an option but also tedious after a while.

    And thanks to the team for adding this option/these options.

  19. Douglas Crawford

    Hi KB. Please leave feature suggestions on our Feedback Forum.

  20. Bill Lynch

    I’m currently running Malwarebytes on my MacBook Air with OS 11.1 BigSur. I added Netshield a few days ago. Will this combination create any conflicts or problems? I’d be willing to uninstall Malwarebytes if necessary.
    Thank you.

  21. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Bill. There shouldn’t be any conflicts. If you do run into any problems, please let us know about them.

  22. Russell

    Hi Guys,
    Love your work and this is a fantastic addition to your VPN. Thank you for introducing a much needed feature.
    However, the iOS version eats 48% of my battery on a new iPhone SE in about 4 hours now that I have updated to this version. Am I alone on this or has this already been reported to you?
    Russell.

  23. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Russel. This should not be happening. Please contact our Support Team for assistance.

  24. mymun

    Nice

  25. Isa

    Correction: Works only in the paid version (as of the date of this comment)

  26. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Isa. That is correct. Netshield is available for Basic, Pro, ands Visionary customers.

  27. M

    If we find something is blocked erroneously, how do we report that? (I haven’t found anything yet, but mistakes do happen.)

  28. Douglas Crawford

    Hi M. Please report any issues to our development team at service@protonvpn.com.

  29. RacrZer

    I really wish there was a whitelist that you could add when you connect to a specific profile. It would make it a lot better for people who need to access a specific site, but dont want to be vulnerable.

  30. Douglas Crawford

    Hi RacrZer. Please leave feature suggestions on our Feedback Forum.

  31. Maverick

    Wow, this is awesome! I wondered about the new update for the VPN client and this blog entry was very good at explaining how it does, what it does. Thanks!

  32. Chris

    How do we know which specific spyware is blocked?

  33. gum

    nice Netshield, but lets us see the block lists you use! i will choose witch host lists to use .

  34. Ron

    After installing latest update with Netshield, my browser Vivaldi still detects and blocks tracers and ads.
    Don’t see any contribution of Netshield against tracers and ads.

  35. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Ron. NetShield blocks malicious domains at the DNS server level. Your browser is almost certainly detecting and blocking domains before they are sent through the VPN tunnel to our DNS server.

  36. MRONJ

    What are sources of dns blocklists for NetShield? More or less lists than GoodbyeAds or Energized basic blocklists or Steven Black Hosts? Or just EasyLists and malware domains?
    I want to know because if more than GoodbyeAds or Energized basic blocklists, I will stop using Adguard dns protection in Adguard app or nextDNS with ProtonVPN.

  37. Mark

    Am unclear whether this service can/does stop the irritating, irrelevant and spurious ads that are part of the Youtube experience. So when I want to watch Netrebko sing a duet with Horostovsky, I have to sit glued to the computer in order to bypass google’s horrible interruption of my viewing experience, instead of locating the clip and playing it through to the finish as in the old days. Please let me. know if Netshield is a workaround for this type of situation.
    Thank you

  38. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Mark. NetShield can only block ads that make a direct call to a blocked domain. With YouTube, its YouTube itself that injects the ads, so we can’t block their ads without blocking YouTube.

  39. Gerardo Junior

    next step is build a nextdns inside this

  40. Gabriel

    Thanks a lot for this very useful feature !! very useful for iOS on various apps with ads and more generally for all websites on computer and mobile phone.

  41. Marco

    You are doing a great job! I‘ve been using ProtonVPN since it was published an I love it!

  42. Michael

    Is there an advantage or benefit to using NetShield as well as browser extensions such as AdBlock or Privacy Badger?

  43. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Micheal. NetShield is an all-in-one solution that affects your entire internet connection – not just one browser.

  44. Stephan

    O.M.G. Amazing, fabulous!! Works well and strips all the pesky advertising in apps too. Thank you so much.

  45. Andrew

    For people who don’t use your native apps, this feature is worthless 🙁
    Maybe it was better to create a separate filtering DNS server?
    For example, CloudFlare Normal 1.1.1.1 and CloudFlare Filtered 1.1.1.2

  46. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Andrew. This is already possible! Simply append +f1 or +f2 to your OpenVPN/IKEv2 username. +f1 for blocking malware only, or +f2 for malware and ads.

  47. hamington

    If NetShield blocks these things at the DNS server level why do I have to install a new version with it?

  48. Douglas Crawford

    Hi hamington. This is because our server only filters connections where NetShield is enabled in the app.

  49. Andrew J. Caines

    This is a great option to provide to ProtonVPM users.
    Please identify
    1) the services and sources on which blocking decisions are made,
    2) where we can continue to find this information as it changes,
    3) what is returned to queries for blocked records, and
    4) how identify we can identify when a record is blocked, especially when it’s one of very many used by a web site or service for its functionality, but which is not visible in the client.

  50. Douglas Crawford

    Hi Andrew. At present we don’t make DNS blocklists public. You can see which domains are blocked, though, by opening your web browser’s Console. DNS requests blocked by NetShield will show a 404 error.

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