VPNs are excellent tools for protecting all your data, but they can troublesome enough to use—think reduced throughput and inaccessible sites—that people simply give up on them. Bitdefender’s Yonly (short for You Only) seeks to be a Goldilocks solution. Instead of securing all your traffic, it only shields your DNS requests, making it less powerful than a VPN but more accessible for normal users, as we’ll explain below. As a bonus, Bitdefender is also bundling its excellent web filtering protection that sifts out malicious URLs for free until April 2021.
How Does Yonly Protect You?
ISPs can monitor DNS requests—just like they do the rest of your web traffic—to see what you’re up to online. Yonly securely routes your mobile device’s DNS requests to a server operated by Bitdefender. This prevents your ISP from monitoring those requests and prevents those scary, but rare, DNS poisoning attacks.
A VPN, on the other hand, encrypts all the traffic from your machine and routes it to a server controlled by the VPN company from which your data exits back onto the web. This hides your IP address and blinds your ISP and others to your online activities. You can also use a VPN to spoof your location, by selecting a distant VPN server.
Many VPNs provide a private DNS resolver as part of their service, although some simply re-route your requests to a DNS resolver other than your ISP. Yonly and similar products only secure your DNS requests.
That might seem immediately disqualifying. Why bother with Yonly if a VPN does even more? Bitdefender argues that VPNs are overkill and that Yonly balances privacy and security against issues like battery life, connection speeds, and VPNs being blocked by media streaming websites (and others). The company says further that most of your data is already encrypted through HTTPS and that securing DNS requests leaves precious little for an ISP to monitor.
One additional feature of Yonly is Bitdefender’s web filtering. This uses the same block list of malicious sites Bitdefender uses in its other products. These might have malicious downloads or phishing scams on the other end. My colleague Neil Rubenking found that Bitdefender blocked 99 percent of malicious URLs in his testing of the Bitdefender Internet Security product. That’s excellent, and useful on Android since a malicious URL is just as dangerous on a desktop as it is on a mobile device.
Yonly users can secure their DNS requests indefinitely for free, but after April 22, 2021, web filtering will cost $3.99 per month. That works out to be $47.88 per year. It’s significantly cheaper than most, but not all, VPNs. That said, it is a little pricey compared to a marketplace of free or very cheap mobile apps. To take protection beyond your phone, you could pay $89.99 per year for Editors’ Choice-winning security suite Bitdefender Total Security, which protects up to five devices (Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS) with a variety of tools (including a bandwidth-limited VPN), and provides the same web filtering tools for Android.
Cloudflare’s secure DNS tool 18.104.22.168 has a $4.99 per month paid tier, but this is for access to the company’s unique internet infrastructure, which may increase your browsing speeds. 22.214.171.124 also offers web filtering, but it does so for free and tacks on the option to filter out adult content at the network level.
Hands On With Yonly
We had no trouble downloading Yonly from the Google Play store and installing it on a Pixel 3a. Note that there’s also an IOS version of the software, which we did not test here. Bitdefender says it is A/B testing different versions of the Yonly app, one using amusing GIFs in the primary design language. Over the course of several reinstallations, we eventually got to try both versions. Most of our testing, and the images here, were with the non-GIF version. The addition of animations didn’t much change the interface, which mostly consists of boxes with rounded corners and a muted but colorful design. The overall look is a little like the new iOS widgets—or the very old and tragically underappreciated Windows Phone interface. It’s not as snazzy as 126.96.36.199, but it offers much more information.
When you start up the app for the first time, you have to page through a short tutorial. What you don’t have to do is log in. Yonly does not require an account to use. That’s one less chunk of personal information you need to hand out. According to Bitdefender, you can create an account if you need customer support, however. Accounts will be necessary for anyone who wants to continue using web filtering with a paid subscription starting in April, 2021.
A colorful toggle sits at the bottom of the app. Tap it, and Yonly starts securing your DNS requests and filtering out dangerous URLs. The first time you do this on Android, you’ll be warned that Yonly is going to install a VPN profile. I can hear you saying,”But you said this wasn’t a VPN!” And it’s not. In order to handle all the DNS requests from your device, Yonly creates a local VPN connection, but instead of tunneling to a distant server, the app just uses the VPN to capture your device’s web traffic. Bitdefender is testing an alternative scheme using DNS over HTTPS (DoH) technology on some Apple devices, and it may replace the local VPN trick in the future.
Note that because Yonly uses its own VPN connection, you cannot use it and a VPN at the same time.
At times, you may find that you need to shut Yonly off—perhaps when a website or an app is not behaving correctly. Tapping the toggle when the app is running lets you pause the service for five minutes or one hour, or you can switch it off completely. I like the ability to pause the service, since it saves you from having to remember to turn Yonly back on again. If the problem persists, you can opt to have specific apps not use Yonly for their DNS resolution needs. You can only do this on a per-app basis, unfortunately. In the future, I would like to see Bitdefender let users add trusted URLs to an approved list to bypass web filtering. 188.8.131.52 has a similar allowed apps list, but in our testing, that product had far more conflicts than we experienced with Yonly.
The other panels display various stats. You can tap any of them to see more information and flip through some additional cards telling you more about the app. The Secured Traffic panel shows how long you’ve been connected today, over the last week, and so on. The Trackers panel counts all the trackers you encounter while surfing the web. Note that Yonly does not block those trackers. That’s not surprising, as Google has banned ad blockers (but not browsers that block ads) from the PlayStore. Seeing the number and not being able to do anything about it is frustrating, although that’s not on Bitdefender.
The Profiler panel is similar to the Tracker panel. Once you switch it on, it starts compiling data about your online activities, similar to how your ISP or an advertiser would. It’s meant to demonstrate how much of your information could be siphoned off for the benefit of others. Bitdefender doesn’t use this data and you can clear it at any time.
The Critical Threats panel lists all the really bad stuff that Bitdefender filters out. Normally we’d test this using the AMTSO testing tools, but Bitdefender blocks the entire AMTSO domain. Bitdefender should rectify this, although it won’t affect anyone except reviewers like me. My colleague Neil Rubenking tested this feature in a Bitdefender Windows antivirus product and found it to be extremely effective.
In testing, mobile apps worked smoothly with Yonly running. Streaming video apps like Disney+ and Netflix loaded content just fine—which is not the case with most VPNs. I had no trouble browsing the web, answering emails, using messaging apps, or making phone calls. My phone can make calls via both Wi-Fi and cellular connections, and Yonly didn’t seem to interfere with either method.
Your Privacy With Yonly
A company representative reassured me, however, that the only data Bitdefender with Yonly collects is for the functionality of the DNS server and to ensure the system is working correctly. This includes accessed domains, the time it takes to resolve DNS requests, malicious domain filtering information, and the country of the user. None of this information is individually identifiable, and Bitdefender wipes it from the server on a rolling three-day schedule—retaining only statistics and diagnostic data. The representative went on to say that selling customer data is not Bitdefender’s business model.
Cloudflare goes further when it comes to this kind of reassurance with its 184.108.40.206 app, undertaking a major audit of its practices. That’s the kind of transparency we like to see in VPNs and similar software, and Bitdefender should consider following suit with Yonly.
Smaller Impact on Speed
PCMag did not test Bitdefender’s claims about improved battery life versus VPNs. We did, however, test to see what impact Yonly had on speed. For this, we used a similar methodology to testing VPN speeds, which you can read about in our feature How We Test VPNs. In a nutshell, we compare Ookla speed test results with Yonly to those without and find a percent change.
Our testing showed that Yonly did not have a negative impact on web browsing performance. You can see how Yonly compares to Cloudflare’s similar secure DNS app 220.127.116.11—as well as Hotspot Shield VPN, the fastest VPN we’ve tested—in the chart below.
Note that Hotspot Shield VPN and Yonly slightly improved some results. We believe that this may be because the upload and latency results saw very little change in some tests. You shouldn’t rely on these services to actually speed up your browsing, but it’s clear that using Yonly shouldn’t slow you down.
A Lighter Touch for Privacy
The problem with VPNs is that they are sometimes so intrusive that you may end up abandoning them altogether. Yonly has a lighter touch, with a smaller impact on speeds and potentially fewer compatibility issues with online apps and services. Yonly’s design is simple and informative, even if it highlights problems that can’t be solved with its tools. For free, it’s a low-impact way to improve your privacy online and protect against malicious websites. Web filtering is its most unique feature, and will, unfortunately, be locked behind a paywall this spring, which lessens Yonly’s attraction.
We’re giving Yonly a strong score but are withholding an Editors’ Choice award until we’ve reviewed more similar products.