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Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN service that was launched a decade ago. In this Hotspot Shield review, I’ll look at the main features of this VPN service, which has already gathered 650 million users worldwide.
What are its main security and privacy features? How about this VPN’s speed and compatibility with different devices? Continue reading to get the answers to these and other related questions.
Security and privacy features
Here, I’ll discuss Hotspot Shield’s security and privacy features. Recently, this VPN service has not been going through the best of times in terms of reputation.
Credible sources (Centre for Democracy and Technology as well as Carnegie Mellon University) accused them of snooping on users and selling data to advertisers. Even though the company claimed that the allegations were unfounded and false, such an accusation can leave an unfortunate stain.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and discuss Hotspot Shield’s security features step by step.
Encryption and tunneling protocols
Hotspot Shield uses AES-256 encryption and its own patented VPN protocol called the Catapult Hydra Protocol. This is not a new protocol per se; it’s more like a modification or enhancement of TLS and OpenSSL. Catapult Hydra is secure and seems to have some performance benefits over other protocols.
Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield doesn’t use OpenVPN protocol, which is the industry standard.
One good thing about Hotspot Shield is its effective kill switch.
A kill switch turns your Internet connection off, once your VPN connection starts facing issues. This prevents your IP address from leaking. You won’t lose your Internet connection if you disconnect from Hotspot Shield VPN manually.
To enable it, go to Settings -> Advanced and press on Kill Switch:
IP or DNS leaks
The best way to check for IP or DNS leaks is to run a few online tests. To do so, I connected to Belgium and was assigned the IP address 126.96.36.199.
Then I checked whether my IP address or DNS queries were leaking:
As you can see, this is Hotspot Shield’ s-given IP address, meaning there is no IP leak.
Hotspot Shield is based in the US. If you are conscious about your privacy online this fact should make you worried. This country is an international surveillance powerhouse, the “all-seeing eye” of the Five Eyes alliance.
Therefore, if you wish to surf online without being watched, think of a different VPN to use.
“We may collect device identifiers, browser types, device types and settings, operating system versions, mobile, wireless, and other network information (such as internet service provider name, carrier name and signal strength), and application version numbers”
This VPN provider has access to some of your information. However, it is mostly related to the maintenance and improvement of the service.
What is more, Hotspot Shield doesn’t collect personally identifiable data, and that is something worth praising.
If staying private online is your top priority, you want to be able to purchase your Hotspot Shield’s subscription anonymously.
You can purchase Hotspot Shield Elite with Bitcoin:
- Pick a trust-worthy Bitcoin Wallet
- Purchase Bitcoins
- Head to the HSS Elite Pre-purchase page
- Choose the option to pay with Bitcoin
Hotspot Shield’s data privacy problems
In 2017 Hotspot Shield faced some severe data privacy issues. The Center for Democracy & Technology filed a report accusing the company of “logging connections and using third-party tracking to serve targeted advertising.”
As a response, the company denied the allegations claiming that they were unfounded.
Still, it seems that this VPN provider does log connection data (so-called aggregate data), including which websites you visit and the apps you use for online communications.
Recently, security researcher Paulos Yibelo claimed to have found a significant security bug that could leak generic information like the user’s country. He was able to find out the physical locations of users based on the data he retrieved.
He also said that he was occasionally able to retrieve true IP addresses, which AnchorFree claimed was impossible since their programmers also investigated the security bug and patched it.
As I have mentioned, Hotspot Shield uses its Catapult Hydra protocol, which is supposed to double the download speeds for large files. This is done by creating multiple channels for data to increase speed and reliability.
To see if it’s true I completed a couple of tests.
First, I tested the internet connection speed without a VPN:
And, this is what I got when connecting to different regions of the world:
- Download: 157.73 Mbps (47% drop-off)
- Upload: 4.04 Mbps (98% drop-off)
- Ping: 116
- Download: 226.46 Mbps (24% drop-off)
- Upload: 69.20 Mbps (76% drop-off)
- Ping: 65
- Download: 100.99 Mbps (34% drop-off)
- Upload: 11.66 Mbps (96% drop-off)
- Ping: 296
The results of the tests may look quite disappointing. However, Hotspot Shield is one of the leaders on the market today, in terms of its speeds.
Does Hotspot Shield support my device?
It depends on what device you are using. Hotspot Shield supports the following platforms:
- Android TV
- Fire TV
Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide support for routers, game consoles, or the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Hotspot Shield VPN desktop app
The Hotspot Shield app’s interface is excellent for any VPN newbie wanting to access blocked content quickly. But, it could be less impressive for an advanced user who would prefer more freedom to set up privacy preferences.
As you can tell, the app is pretty self-explanatory, which is great if you’re starting to use a VPN.
Once you click the button to connect, you’ll be sent to this window:
Here you can choose a country you wish to be connected to and see your IP address, download, and upload speeds.
If you wish to explore your Account, click at the top of the left corner:
As you can see, you can get your Hotspot Shield mobile app from there. We’ll get to it in a moment.
In the Settings menu, you can see the IP leak prevention option that is on by default, but you can decide to turn it off. You can also turn the kill switch on or off here if you want to.
Finally, you can set your preferences for the following features:
- Unsafe wifi Hotspots (on by default)
- Safe wifi Hotspots.
Hotspot Shield VPN mobile app
There are several ways to get Hotspot Shield’s mobile app. Look for a link on their website, visit the Apple Store, or get it on Google Play.
If you already have the Hotspot Shield’s app, you can also get your mobile app by clicking on the link in your Hotspot Shield desktop app Account settings tab.
Here you can choose whether you want to receive a link to your mobile device or download the app yourself on either the App Store or Google Play.
The mobile version has a very similar interface to the desktop app. Again, it’s very clean and easy to follow.
Once you create your account or log into the one you already have, you’ll get to the Connect window:
After connecting, you can explore your Account, and Upgrade to Premium:
Hotspot Shield VPN for web browsers
You can use Hotspot Shield with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
Adding the VPN’s extension is no different than any other extension:
Once you add it, you’ll get a confirmation that it works:
Netflix and other streaming services
In this section, I’ll discuss the usage of Netflix and other streaming services with Hotspot Shield.
You can’t unblock Netflix using the free version of Hotspot Shield – here’s what you’ll see if you try to access the platform:
Here’s the good news, though: you can use the Premium version of Hotspot Shield for Netflix.
I managed to stream Netflix US, UK, and AU without any issues. But, I couldn’t bypass the detection measures with servers in Canada and Japan. If you fail to access Netflix, you can find information on the website to help you out.
If you want to find an alternative to Hotspot Shield, you may want to try one of the VPNs on our best VPN for Netflix list.
Of course, streaming is not exclusively a Netflix thing. Although 30% of VPN users target Netflix shows, there are several other popular media centers too. For example, Hotspot Shield VPN does an excellent job of unblocking BBC iPlayer content.
What about Kodi?
Yes, you can use it since Hotspot Shield has sufficient speeds to make your Kodi experience enjoyable.
As for your anonymity, while browsing on Kodi, this VPN provider meets all the criteria for doing that.
Does Hotspot Shield support torrenting?
Similar to the Netflix situation, the free Hotspot Shield may not be the best choice for torrenting and other P2P file-sharing activities due to the daily 500 MB bandwidth limit.
However, you may be totally fine with the Premium version, which provides you with more server choices and unlimited bandwidth, not to mention higher speeds. The Catapult Hydra is excellent for those with slower or more unstable connections.
It’s also important to mention that this service also gives you protection against malware (both the free and paid plans), suspicious third-party ads, and phishing.
Hotspot Shield has the following support options:
- Support ticket
- 24/7 live chat support
When writing this Hotspot Shield review, I had to use the Hotspot live chat support to figure out several issues. I found the support not only friendly and helpful but also quite fast. Of course, a few of the replies were templates, but, on the whole, I was satisfied with the answers.
You can also try to use the Support menu to open the FAQ section or send a direct question to the support team.
Although there is nothing cheaper than a free VPN, most of the Hotspot Shield pricing plans are quite expensive:
- 1 month: $12.99
- 1 year: $7.99/month
- 3 years: $2.99/month
All premium plans allow 5 simultaneous connections.
The last 3-year plan is not always offered together with the rest. The last time I checked, it was only visible on Hotspot’s Free VPN page.
There is a free version of Hotspot Shield, but it comes with these limitations:
- Daily bandwidth limit of 500 MB
- Includes ads
- A limited number of US servers, which may well be virtual ones
- One device
- No access to Netflix
The supported payment methods include credit cards and PayPal only. Unfortunately, there is no anonymous payment option.
There is a 7-day trial for free, but you have to provide your credit card details, and AnchorFree automatically puts you into the most expensive monthly plan unless you cancel in time.
Hotspot Shield offers one of the most extended refund periods, which is a 45-day money-back guarantee. All things considered, this VPN may be a bit pricey for what it has to offer when compared to competitors, especially its shorter subscriptions.
Should you get Hotspot Shield VPN?
One of the main advantages of Hotspot Shield is that it has a free version, even if it’s limited. The majority of the 650 million customers use the free VPN option. If they are okay with it, you may also become a satisfied customer.
Hotspot Shield has been around for a decade already, and although it’s not the fastest VPN in 2020, it does have high streaming speeds depending on your location and which server you are connecting to.
With that said, I wouldn’t recommend this VPN for political activists, hackers, and other users for whom privacy is an essential factor.