Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a tool used by many to hide their location and online identity from prying eyes.
When you turn on a VPN service, all your incoming and outgoing web traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel to a server operated by the VPN company. This is preventing someone else’s ability to intercept your data when they are lurking on the same network that you are using. This prevents the intruder from seeing your activities and also stops the internet service provider from monitoring, tracking, and selling data to some marketing research company.
What happens is, anyone monitoring will see the IP address of the VPN server and not your actual IP address making it invisible on the network that you are using. Which makes it harder to track you across the web and can also be used to fake your location by connecting a VPN server in further geolocation. Anyone on the same network as you won’t be able to spy on your activities either.
A VPN is a very powerful tool that you could use to prevent someone from stealing information. But, that doesn’t mean that you are protected from every possible threat imaginable.
This is why you must use a standalone antivirus program like Bitdefender or Heimdal Thor Antivirus guard.
A good password manager can also help you to keep your credentials safe and sound from hackers, co-workers, or anyone who got access to your device. Enabling two-factor authentication for online services is also very helpful to protect them from hackers.
Hotspot Shield is a VPN service developed by AnchorFree, a cybersecurity firm based in the USA. Hotspot Shield has been around since 2008. Now it’s operated by a company called Pango Inc the USA and Switzerland-based tech company. It provides separate client applications for Microsoft Windows OS, macOS, iOS, Android OS, and even Linux OS. Users can bypass government censorship as well as geolocational restrictions by connecting a VPN server located outside their country.
It has been reviewed by PCWorld, Times, CNN, Bloomberg, ABC, Fox, and many major news networks and tech magazines.
Google Play Store got a four-star rating for the Hotspot Shield Android app based on 1.4M reviews.
How Hotspot Shield provides protection?
Hotspot Shield VPN provides encryption for your connection and doesn’t keep track of your data nor monitors it as per the no-log policy to ensure the security of the private data of the customers.
It comes with spilt tunnel feature, which lets you designate what traffic flows through the encrypted tunnel and what doesn’t.
You can also whitelist domains that you want to access without VPN protection, which can be handy when it comes to doing online transactions with a financial firm that actively block VPN connections.
However, it doesn’t come with Tor anonymization network or multi-hop connections. Multi-hop connections are capable of routing your traffic through a second server for enhanced security. NordVPN and CyberGhost VPN offers this advanced feature, making them more reliable and secure.
Hotspot Shield VPN is owned by Pango Inc, a tech company with its headquarters both in the USA and Switzerland. USA headquarters is taking care of the operations in the American continent, so citizens of the USA are customers of the USA-based headquarters, making them subject to US law. Some companies like CyberGhost VPN like to operate outside the countries bounded by the International Data Surveillance laws to avoid handing over data to law enforcement or other government agencies.
Hotspot shield makes sure that all their servers are operated by the company representatives to make sure that the servers are configured and running properly. They also use layers of security to protect its Public Key infrastructure.
Unlike CyberGhost VPN, the Hotspot Shield never publish transparency reports which would list the requests done by law enforcement and whether the company complied or not. Though the company is transparent about its operations, it must make sure to provide information more accessible to the customers to prove their accountability like the CyberGhost does.
It also provides its services with no log policy, meaning that they will not store or monitor user information. However, they store your IP address to match you to the best VPN server. Even that information is encrypted and deleted after the end of your session and it doesn’t have the ability to connect activity at a specific server with a specific person using that server, which is a good standard to ensure user’s privacy.
The company further stores log session duration, domains (not complete URLs), amount of data used in the session, device hashes to enforce its policies but this information cannot be traced back to the user activity. The company explains that they have to store this information because it does not require users to create a user account. Other VPN providers such as CyberGhost and NordVPN provides VPN services without these practices.
Most of the users do not worry about picking a specific VPN protocol over the other, though many major VPN providers are giving users the opportunity to do so. There are many ways to create an encryption tunnel for your traffic and Hotspot Shield VPN got a unique methodology to create theirs.
Hotspot Shield VPN comes with its in-house protocol called Catapult Hydra and until very recently, used it as default without any other alternatives to power Hotspot Shield.
Catapult Hydra protocol is however not an entirely new encryption protocol, it uses the Open SSL library to encrypt data and is simply an enhanced version of the transport protocol.
What is special about Hydra Protocol is its ability to create multiple channels for data to travel with the goal of increasing reliability and overall speed.
While many other major VPN service providers are relying on proven VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, Hotspot Shield almost entirely relies on Hydra protocol. For Windows OS and iOS, IKEv2 is provided by Hotspot Shield as an option. OpenVPN, the most secure VPN protocol in existence is however only available for routers.
Hydra protocol is not posing a security risk in my opinion as it still follows industry standards but more proven VPN protocols such as the OpenVPN and IKEv2 are more reliable and secure. It is good to see that Hotspot Shield is eventually rolling out support for these protocols as well.
WireGuard, a new open-source VPN protocol, which is more likely to replace OpenVPN in the future due to its advanced encryption and reliability is provided with NordVPN. WireGuard is still largely in development and testing, so it is understandable why Hotspot Shield VPN didn’t bother with providing it as an option, but may soon consider doing so due to high demand.
Servers and Locations
Normally, it is advised to connect to the VPN server that is closest to your location as it improves the speed and reliability of the connection. However, if you are regularly traveling around, then you better get many options to choose from.
Hotspot Shield got approximately 1800 servers available. CyberGhost VPN got more than 7000 servers at their disposal. NordVPN also got more than 5000 servers.
It is also noteworthy to mention that many VPN service providers are using virtual servers, which are software-defined and usually resides on server hardware, and those virtual servers are configured in a way to appear as if they are in a separate location other than their host machine. This may be useful for spinning up new servers to take a sudden spike in traffic and allows some companies to secure their server infrastructure a little bit better. A virtual server can be safely stored in a safer location far more easily than a physical real server. Not all VPN companies are honest about which server is real and which is virtual, so there is no proper way of saying where your data goes. Hotspot Shield VPN does promise that they are counting only the physical servers.
Hotspot Shield VPN provides more than 80 countries and 35+ cities around the world, providing 115+ virtual locations around the world. ExpressVPN provides 94 countries and CyberGhost VPN provides more than 90 countries in comparison.
However, the Hotspot Shield provides a variety of locations including servers in South America and the African continent. Hotspot shield provides servers in four African countries and numerous servers in the Central and South American regions. These regions are arguably the least supported by the majority of VPN users.
Hotspot Shield VPN also provides server locations in China, Russia, Belarus, UK, USA, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bahamas Brazil, India, Turkey, and even Vietnam.
The Hotspot Shield VPN comes with its proprietary Hydra protocol to optimize the VPN connection to ensure faster speed, secure and reliable connection for online gaming, streaming services, downloading, and torrenting.
The VPN software is having an impact on speed and performance due to the extra distance to the server that you are connected to and the efficiency of their data transport protocols.
To measure the Hotspot Shield VPN’s impact on upload and download speeds, I used the Ookla test.
Internet speed Ping Download Upload
Normal connection without VPN 41 89.21 72.24
Hotspot Shield VPN USA Atlanta 121 62.13 45.71
Hotspot Shield VPN USA Charlotte 131 56.82 61.42
Hotspot Shield VPN Argentina 25 80.14 54.13
Hotspot Shield VPN Brazil 114 50.21 48.67
Hotspot Shield VPN Belarus 53 70.24 67.24
Hotspot Shield VPN Russia 117 80.64 69.34
It is noteworthy to mention that the impact on the speed of the uploads and downloads is are low when compared with other VPN service providers, but this test must be taken with a pinch of salt as network conditions can change on small notice.
Hotspot Shield VPN for streaming services
Streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer are taking ever-tightening procedures to block VPNs to avoid geolocational restrictions, but Hotspot shield was able to access Netflix and BBC iPlayer without any trouble at all. Streaming quality is good but wasn’t up to the level of CyberGhost VPN’s streaming quality, which is understandable as the CyberGhost comes with dedicated streaming servers.
Blocking malicious URLs
Hotspot shield says that it blocks more than 50 million known malicious URLs and domains to ensure a safer online web browsing experience.
How many devices are protected with Hotspot Shield VPN?
You can protect up to five devices simultaneously making it practical for a household with many devices. This is also a lot practical as you do not have to log out of a currently connected device to make space for a new one. Avira Phantom VPN and SurfShark VPN do not limit the number of simultaneously protected devices, making them more practical.
My favorite VPN, the Cyberghost VPN comes with support for up to seven devices.
Hotspot Shield VPN support for P2P file sharing (torrenting)
Like any other major VPN service provider, the Cyberghost VPN provides support for P2P file-sharing clients such as BitTorrent. Torrenting
Hotspot Shield VPN provides separate client applications for Windows OS, macOS, iOS, Android OS, Linux OS, Android TV, routers, and more.
How to install Hotspot shield on Windows PC
The hotspot shield VPN is easy to set up on Windows PC. After setting up you will be shown a big button to connect the VPN and a menu that shows which server that you will be connecting to.
After connecting to a specific server, upload and download speeds, latency, and the load on the server that you are connected to and the IP address assigned to you are shown. You can also select a new location from the menu.
A separate section shows network usage and at the very bottom of the app, there is a disconnect button.
When you select a new service, you are greeted with a grid of available server locations and a search bar at the top to make it easy to search for specific locations from the grid. There are many locations within a region.
This is good and well designed, but services like CyberGhost is are capable of allowing the user to choose specific servers and specific services.
The setting section provides some useful features and tools. You can whitelist URLs that you want to access without using the VPN, a useful feature to access services that keep blocking VPNs such as websites of financial organizations. A kill switch cuts off your connection in case of a failure in VPN encryption or disconnection to avoid data leaks. DNS leak prevention mechanism also works well.
Hotspot Shield VPN Pricing and Packaging
Hotspot Shield starts at $12.99 per month which is slightly above the average fees of other VPN service providers, but when considering all the major features provided by it, the price is actually a bargain for an app like this. The Hotspot Shield VPN subscription comes with a Pango account which allows you access to 1Password Password manager, Identify Guard Identity theft protection, Roboshield call blocker to make up for the price
One year subscription plan is $95.88, reducing the monthly fees to $7.99.
The three-year plan is $107.64, reducing the monthly fee to $2.99.
You can purchase Hotspot Shield via a credit card, or PayPal.
All the packages provide protection for up to five devices. Hotspot Shield VPN is compatible with Windows OS, iOS, macOS, Android OS, Android TV, and routers. However, SurfShark and Avira Phantom VPN do not limit the number of simultaneously protected devices.
CyberGhost VPN offers the same amount of functionality and features for lesser prices. CyberGhost is based in Romania to avoid International Data Surveillance laws, making it not bounded by law to hand over information to a government agency or any 3rd party research group. Due to this reason alone, CyberGhost VPN can be considered as a worthy competitor.
Read our full review here.
Hotspot Shield VPN Final Recap
Hotspot Shield VPN comes with excellent speed and a good level of protection. Instant kill switch, and DNS leak prevention features are ensuring the safety of personal and financial data. It provides excellent speed and provides more than 115 virtual locations to choose from. No transparency reports or audits and expensive packaging makes it lose ground to the likes of Cyberghost VPN, SurfShark VPN, and NordVPN.