Review score: Very good
Hotspot Shield is a very fast and beautifully designed VPN. But a bit expensive.
- One of the fastest VPN in the world
- The most used VPN in the world: Trusted by over 650 million users
- Maximum privacy: It stores no logs, so you are completely anonymous
- Maximum security: AES-256 encryption and a kill switch
- Servers in 82 countries: Covering 5 continents.
- Premium design: Its apps are the most beautiful of all tested VPNs
- 5 simultaneous connections: Use it by yourself or share it with a friend
- Works with Netflix and torrents (P2P)
- Expensive: Hotspot Shield is priced at the premium end of the market
- Own VPN protocol: Its VPN protocol (Catapult Hydra) is lightning fast, but it’s not open-source, and therefor not transparent
- Can’t be installed on routers
Hotspot Shield VPN Facts
- Best deal: $ 2.99 / month
- Refund Policy: 45 days
- Customer Support: 24/7 Live chat
- Devices per account: 5
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux
- Works with US Netflix: Yes
- Works with Torrents: Yes
- Works in China: Yes
- Speed: 88 Mbps
- Servers in: 82 countries
- Server count: 3.200+
- IP Addresses: 3.200+
- Jurisdiction: United States
- Data leaks: None
- Logging policy: No logs
Privacy and Security
The Good: Hotspot Shield has a very clear zero-log policy and does not track anything you do online. It also uses its own Hydra Catapult protocol, which is much faster than OpenVPN. Moreover, it applies the highly secure AES-256 encryption, and features a kill switch.
The Bad: It does not use its own DNS servers.
What privacy and security elements do we test for?
- Logging Policy
- Own DNS Servers
- Kill Switch Test
- Leak Test
1. Logging Policy
What is a logging policy and why does it matter?
Every app developer wants to know how their app is being used, who is using it, and how to improve its performance to attract even more users. VPN providers are no exception.
Though you might not expect them to collect information about their users – after all, the purpose of a VPN is to provide anonymity on the internet – most VPN providers still do that. This information is stored in logs. The amount and type of data providers keep in user logs varies, but it typically falls into one or more of the following four categories:
- Service-specific information: Anonymous information about the VPN server you use to surf the web, your device’s operating system (OS), and the version of the VPN client that you’re using.
- Connection-specific information: Anonymous information that shows the dates, times, and length of your browsing sessions and the volume of incoming and outgoing traffic per session.
- IP-specific information: This information reveals the IP address from which you connected to the service and can be used to pinpoint your exact physical location.
- Activity-specific information: Extensive information about your browsing activity which can include the addresses of websites you visit while using the service, as well as your search history.
There is usually no need to worry about the first two categories of information – service-specific and connection-specific. As explained, this data is collected anonymously and is typically bundled with similar data collected from other users in order to derive usage and performance statistics.
The only reason why a VPN provider would need your actual IP address is to find out where their service is being used. While this isn’t that big a deal from their perspective, it could represent a deal-breaker to users looking for a secure and 100% anonymous browsing experience.
There is no need whatsoever for a VPN to spy on your online activity, though. If your provider keeps logs of the websites you visit, online services you use, and the web searches you make, you shouldn’t take it lightly. This is usually the case with free providers, which is why we never recommend them. They tend to use this information for advertising purposes and/or sell it to third-party data collectors.
None of the VPN providers we endorse collect personal information about their users.
What is Hotspot Shield’s logging policy like?
Hotspot Shield has a very clear zero-log policy: It does not log your browsing data and deletes your IP address after you disconnect from the VPN. So you are completely anonymous online.
Many VPNs, being relatively small companies, have vague privacy policies. This can be an issue, as you don’t really know what is being stored. Hotspot shield is not a small company. Having over 650 million users around the world, means that it wants to be clear about what data is collects. In their own words:
“Our goal is to be upfront about what we collect”
- Your IP address is stored, but only while you are connected to the VPN: Once you disconnect from the VPN, your IP address is deleted.
- Your browsing history is never stored: Your online activity (the websites you visit and services you use) are never tracked or stored.
Like any other business, a VPN provider must operate in accordance with the laws and regulations of the country or state where they are registered. The country where the provider is incorporated and the laws it has to adhere are commonly referred to as jurisdiction.
Many developed countries like the United States, Australia, and Canada, as well as most EU member states, have very strict laws on data retention. Internet service providers (ISPs) in those countries must comply with these laws by keeping logs of their users’ browsing activity and email exchanges. ISPs must also make this information available to authorities when they request it. To protect their privacy, many people use VPNs, which make their personal information invisible even to their ISP.
Because VPNs are private network providers, public data retention regulations don’t apply to them. Despite that, governmental agencies still attempt to seize servers and data logs from VPN providers.
For example, any federal agency can serve a VPN with a National Security Letter, a secret subpoena that allows them access to data logs and VPN servers. In 2013, the encrypted email provider Lavabit decided to shut down its operations after the NSA served it with one such letter requesting access to Edward Snowden’s private emails. Similarly, faced with pressures from local authorities regarding data retention laws, Private Internet Access abruptly closed all its servers in Russia in 2016.
There are many more examples of governmental agencies trying to seize data from VPN providers, but most of them are not made public. To protect yourself from such scenarios, you need to:
- Use a VPN that is registered in a country with loose or non-existent data retention laws and no active membership in intelligence treaties like Fourteen Eyes or the UKUSA.
- Use a VPN that has a strict zero-log policy and doesn’t record any sensitive information that would reveal their users’ location, identity, surfing habits, or contents of private conversations.
What is Hotspot Shield’s jurisdiction?
Hotspot Shield is incorporated in the United States (US). This is important, because the US is not a great place when it comes to online privacy.
Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) in the US are allowed to collect and sell your data, the NSA is actively conducting mass surveillance, and governmental agencies can attempt to seize data from companies using court orders.
As stated clearly in Hotspot Shield’s transparency report it is regularly contacted by law enforcement agencies from the US and abroad, to identify users based on an IP addresses related to Hotspot Shield’s VPN servers.
But as Hotspot Shield does not collect information on its users, it cannot hand over any information. Since 2016, it has received hundreds of data requests. But it has never handed anything over.
This is the power of a strict log-policy. You are safe using Hotspot Shield. Even in the US.
What is a protocol and why does it matter?
The way in which data is transmitted over the internet, a private network, or a local area network (LAN) is defined by a protocol. A VPN protocol determines how the VPN tunnel between your computer and the VPN server is built.
What protocols does Hotspot Shield use?
Hotspot Shield uses Hydra Catapult. This is an VPN protocol developed in-house
In the past, Hotspot Shield used IPSec and OpenVPN, but developed its own protocol to improve its performance. And with great success: Hotspot Shield is the fastest VPN in the world by far.
In comparison to OpenVPN, Hydra Catapult has much faster connection times and far higher connection speeds over long-distances.
What is encryption and why does it matter?
Encryption is the technology that keeps the data you send and receive over the internet secure. It uses an encryption key to turn readable data temporarily into unreadable data for safe online transmission. To decrypt the data and make it readable again, both the sender and the recipient need to have access to this key.
There are two major VPN encryption standards in wide use nowadays, both of them subtypes of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). One is AES-128, which uses a 128-character key to protect data. While AES-128 is already impenetrable, there is also AES-256. As the name suggests, it keeps data hidden behind a 256-character key, which makes it even more secure than its 128-character counterpart.
What encryption standard does Hotspot Shield use?
Hotspot Shield uses the most secure AES-256 encryption standard.
5. Own DNS Servers
What are DNS servers and why does it matter?
Every website on the internet has its own IP address, a seemingly random string of numbers that identifies its host server. Remembering all those numbers would be difficult, to say the least, which is why each IP address has a corresponding domain name that is easier to memorize (e.g. “Netflix.com”).
When you type a domain name into your browser’s address bar, a DNS server immediately looks up the corresponding IP address and redirects you to it. The information about IP addresses and related domain names is stored on the server itself. In that sense, a DNS server is like the phonebook of the internet.
Your ISP doesn’t see the domains that you have visited, but it does keep logs of the IP addresses you have interacted with. If your VPN provider has its own DNS servers, the DNS-IP conversion is carried out in the same encrypted tunnel that protects all your other data. As such, there is no way for your ISP to know what websites you have visited or limit your access to certain IP addresses.
Does Hotspot Shield use its own DNS servers?
No, Hotspot Shield uses 3rd party DNS servers.
6. Kill Switch Test
What is a kill switch and why does it matter?
If your VPN connection suddenly breaks during your surfing session, your personal data will no longer be encrypted and will thus become visible to your ISP and the owners of the websites you visit. To prevent this, some VPNs have a built-in kill switch feature that automatically disconnects you from the internet when the connection fails and reconnects you once the VPN server of your choice is active again.
Does Hotspot Shield use a kill switch?
Yes, Hotspot Shield uses a kill switch.
7. Leak Test
What is a “leak” and why does it matter?
Although VPNs are designed to encrypt all your data, parts of it may still be visible to others even while you’re connected to a VPN server. Examples of these “data leaks” include IP leaks (where your IP address is visible to others), WebRTC leaks (the contents of voice and video chats), DNS leaks (the domain names of the sites you visit), and Windows credential leaks (your Windows login information).
Does Hotspot Shield leak your data?
No, Hotspot shields leaked no data in our tests.
The Good: Hotspot Shield is, by far, the fastest VPN in the world. Where the average VPN slows your connection speed down by 40%, Hotspot Shield has a tiny 3% speed impact.
The Bad: –
What is a speed test and why does it matter?
VPNs protect your personal information online, but all the encrypting and rerouting through VPN servers slows your connection speed down.
Depending on how fast your VPN is, this could result in considerably longer download times, slower loading of web pages, and lower streaming quality on sites like YouTube and Netflix.
To ensure that the loss of speed is minimal, you can do the following:
- Always choose the fastest VPN. If your VPN has fast servers, you may not even notice that your connection is slower than it normally is. For example, while a slow VPN like TunnelBear can halve your download speed, you won’t experience any lags with Hotspot Shield’s super-fast service.
- Connect to a VPN server nearby. Unless you want to connect to a server in a specific country, you should always choose a server that’s located close to your current location. The further your data has to travel to reach the VPN server, the slower your connection will be. As such, choosing a server close to you will result in better surfing speeds and latency.
- Compare server performance. Rather than settling for the server your VPN client suggests, you should try out a few servers, compare their speeds, and then connect to the fastest of them.
How did Hotspot Shield score in the speed test?
Hotspot Shield routinely ranks among the fastest VPN services on the market, and it was super fast on our tests as well. We were testing from Europe on a base of connection of 90 – 100 Mbps.
Before logging in, our download speed of 97mbps and upload speed of 100mbps comes with a 3ms ping. We logged in to Hotspot Shield and the download speed got down to 88mbps and the upload speed 95bmps. The ping increased to 13ms.
Streaming, torrenting, and even online gaming are possible with these figures.
Hotspot Shield is also fast on its international servers. For example, the server in Australia gave us 60mbps download and 15mbps upload. Pretty impressive when you consider the distance. The ping was bearable, as well.
The server in Australia gave us 60mbps download and 15mbps upload. Pretty impressive when you consider the distance. The ping was bearable, as well.
Furthermore, US servers performed well. We first logged into a server in Seattle and oddly enough, it’d turn out to be the fastest of the bunch at 93mbps download and 29mbps upload. The server in the Big Apple was decisively the slowest at 60mbps download and 65mbps upload.
Dallas and Los Angeles were significantly faster at 86mbps and 93mbps download and 30mbps and 25mbps upload.
The Good: Hotspot Shield features servers in 29 countries around the world. It has dedicated apps for all major operating software, including Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. It offers browser extensions for Chrome and FireFox, with built-in ad and malware blocking. It works with all streaming services and allows torrenting on all its servers. Finally, you can connect 5 devices at the same time on a single subscription.
The Bad: –
What features do we test for?
- Server Locations
- Platform and Devices
- Number of Connections
- Streaming and Torrenting
- Bypassing Censorship
1. Server Locations
What is a server location and why does it matter?
VPNs mask your real IP address with one from a different city or country. When you open your VPN client, you are usually given a choice of countries that you want to browse from. More advanced services also allow you to choose a specific city like London or New York. These are all locations where your VPN provider owns servers.
This is significant because the longer the distance your data needs to go in order to reach the VPN server, the slower your VPN connection will be. By setting up servers in multiple locations, providers help ensure that you’ll always have optimal surfing speeds no matter where you’re using the service.
Where are Hotspot Shield’s servers located?
Hotspot Shield has servers in 29 locations across the world. Covering all continents except Africa. Its locations are:
- Europe: United Kingdom, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland & Ukraine
- North America: United States & Canada
- South America: Brazil & Mexico
- Asia: China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea & Taiwan
- Middle East: Israel & Turkey
- Oceania: Australia & New Zealand
2. Platforms and Devices
What are platforms and devices and why do they matter?
When we say platforms, we are talking about the browsers, devices, and operating systems supported by your VPN provider. While dedicated apps for MacOS, iOS, Android, and Windows are an industry standard, some providers also provide support for Linux. In some cases, you can even install VPN firmware onto your router and download browser extensions for Safari, Chrome, or Firefox.
However, it is important to know that not all browser extensions can match the functionality of a full VPN service. These extensions typically fall into one of the following three categories:
- Proxies: Proxies only mask your IP address, but all other information remains visible to your ISP.
- Proxies with encryption: In addition to masking your IP address, these proxies also encrypt your data. However, this only applies to the data sent and received through your browser. If you use services like Spotify or a standalone Netflix app, your activity in those apps will not be encrypted.
- Full-scale VPNs: Full-scale VPN browser plugins are usually tied to full app installation on your computer. In addition to encrypting all your data, they allow you to adjust VPN settings, change servers, and control all other features directly from your browser window.
What platforms and devices does Hotspot Shield support?
Hotspot Shield supports all major operating software, including Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.
It also offers browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. These also include ad and tracking blocking, and additional malware protection. Do keep in mind that they function as proxies, rather than full VPNs. So use them in addition to the main VPN app.
3. Number of Connections
What are connections and why do they matter?
The maximum number of connections shows the number of devices your VPN can protect with a single subscription. Seeing as most people nowadays use multiple devices to access the internet, being able to protect them all without paying extra can be very useful. Most individual users need 3 connections – one for their computer, one for their phone, and another one for their Smart TV or tablet. Households with multiple internet users may need to get a VPN that allows for 5 or more parallel connections.
How many simultaneous connections does Hotspot Shield support?
Hotspot Shield allows you to connect 5 devices on a single subscription.
4. Streaming and Torrenting
What is streaming and torrenting and why do they matter?
If you want to catch the latest season of your favorite show on Hulu but don’t live in the United States (the only country where this service is available), the easiest way to do it is to install a VPN on your computer and connect to a US server. Similarly, if you want to catch a movie on Netflix Canada, all you need to do is connect to a Canada-based server and then log in to your Netflix account.
Due to increased online surveillance, torrenting and file-sharing are becoming increasingly tricky. Thankfully, some VPNs can encrypt P2P traffic, which means that not even your ISP will know you’re downloading torrents.
Does Hotspot Shield support streaming and torrenting?
Hotspot Shield is a great choice to stream movies and download torrents (P2P). It works perfectly with all major streaming networks, such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer. And it allows you to download torrents on all of its servers around the world.
5. Bypassing Censorship
What is censorship and why do they matter?
While online surveillance isn’t uncommon even in Western countries, some governments also enforce strict rules regarding internet censorship. This is true of most countries with authoritarian regimes, with the Great Firewall of China being the most prominent example.
VPNs can help users from these countries bypass online censorship, but not all VPN providers offer services in these territories. Because of its strict internet laws and the fact that it’s the most populous country in the world, we have chosen China as a test case to determine if a VPN provider is good at bypassing online censorship.
If you want to find out more about online censorship and surveillance, take a look at these resources:
- Access Now
- Center for Democracy and Technology
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Fight For The Future
- Freedom House
- Internet Defence League
- Open Media
Does Hotspot Shield bypass censorship successfully?
Hotspot Shield works in most censored countries, including China.
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