650 million users access the Internet securely with Hotspot Shield

Number of country locations: It was free, easy to set up, and only required that you look at some ads injected into your browsing. There are no interactive maps, mobile-style single-panel interfaces, or elaborate settings.
hotspot sheild pro

Hotspot Shield Free VPN

Encrypts traffic. Speed up connection in some cases. Flexible payment plans. Cons Annoying ad platform. Injects code onto websites. Slows down overall response time.

Modifies browser settings. Bottom Line AnchorFree HotSpot Shield makes it easy for users to take advantage of VPN technology to surf online privately and securely, especially when they are connected to an open wireless hotspot. It’s a useful tool to have if you spend a lot of time on public Wi-Fi networks.

They protect our online activity from the prying eyes of attackers on insecure networks, and from ISPs that sell our data. While AnchorFree’s VPN service is easy to use and includes a slew of features, it is also expensive and turned in lackluster results in our speed tests. What Is a VPN?

Anyone on your network watching your traffic or trying to serve you bogus websites won’t be able to break into that tunnel. That’s great, especially if you find yourself using that sketchy, unsecured Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop. That’s not the only reason you need a VPN , either. Because your internet traffic appears to be coming from AnchorFree’s servers, your computer, in turn, appears to have the IP address of that server.

That means websites, advertisers, and snoopers have a harder time tracking your movements across the web and discerning your actual location. The Best Mac Antivirus Protection for While using a VPN is always a wise choice for securing important activities such as online banking transactions, VPNs are essential for accessing the internet while traveling or any time you use a public Wi-Fi network.

On a larger scale, people living in countries with restrictive control over internet access can circumvent that control with a VPN. This technology has long been a key tool of activists and journalists.

For some people, VPNs are also a means to access region-locked content. Note that Netflix is fighting back against this kind of cheating, as are other services. It’s important to know what a VPN can and can’t do, however. First and foremost, a VPN provides only limited online anonymity. To really disguise yourself online, you should route your traffic through the labyrinthine Tor network.

Also, if you connect to websites or services that don’t encrypt traffic via HTTPS, your network traffic may be subject to interception. There’s a good chance that you have never laid hands on a VPN before. If that’s the case, don’t worry!

We’ve got a whole feature on how to set up and use a VPN. If none of those plans fits your wallet, you might consider using a free VPN , such as the one provided by AnchorFree.

The free version also has bandwidth limits that depend on the device you use. All free accounts are capped at MB per day. AnchorFree also uses Android resources to deliver occasional interstitial ads. TunnelBear also has a limited free version, but it won’t serve you ads if you opt to go that way.

VPN Protocols VPNs are a mature technology, and there’s more than one way to create an encrypted tunnel for your traffic. For the most part, you won’t have to worry about picking a particular VPN protocol, but I appreciate services that give consumers that option. The typical VPN service supports multiple VPN protocols and either uses the one it thinks best for a particular situation or allows the user to choose.

Instead, AnchorFree created its own protocol called Catapult Hydra and uses it exclusively. To be clear, in creating Catapult Hydra AnchorFree didn’t create a new encryption protocol. A new encryption protocol would require an enormous amount of scrutiny since an undiscovered flaw could be used to break it.

An AnchorFree representative recently explained that Catapult Hydra uses the Open SSL library to encrypt the data and that the new protocol is simply “an enhancement of the transport protocol.

While plenty of other VPN services create their own protocols, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield is the only one I’m aware of that relies exclusively on its own proprietary protocol. I’m always a little leery of security companies that decide to roll their own services when secure, open-source options like OpenVPN exist. I haven’t tested the efficacy of AnchorFree’s protocol—I’ll leave that to the expert researchers. The number of servers indicates the service’s robustness. The more servers there are, the more bandwidth each person connected to a given server will receive.

The number of server locations is also important, but I am more interested in geographic diversity. A lot of different server locations gives you more opportunities to spoof your location, and it also means you’re more likely to find a nearby server when traveling. Hotspot Shield members get just 25 server locations worldwide to choose from, with some 2, servers in total.

That’s a lot of servers, but I’d prefer to see them more widely distributed. It also maintains servers in areas with restrictive internet access policies, including China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey. Hotspot Shield customers disappointed by its dearth of servers in Africa should consider CyberGhost , which has a few in the region. This puts Hotspot Shield among the most robust VPN services, but its geographic diversity leaves something to be desired. Some VPN companies employ what are called virtual servers.

These are software-defined servers—a single piece of server hardware running multiple virtual servers onboard. These virtual servers can also be configured to appear in a different location than their host hardware server.

Consumers deeply concerned about their privacy may take issue with virtual servers, since your data might be traveling to different countries than you expect.

An AnchorFree representative explained that 20 percent of the servers in the US and Western Europe are virtual servers. But if you’re a paying customer, you won’t be using any virtual servers. Additionally, all of the VPN servers are physically located exactly where they appear to be. After all, these companies could monitor your activity as much as ISPs already do. AnchorFree has gone to great lengths to update its privacy policy to be clearer and easily understood, and should be commended for this.

However, it still contains several passages that are confusing and worrying without additional context.

Its opening two points are continued throughout the document, and are good touchstones of any VPN service: We do not keep logs of your online activities and never associate any domains, or applications that you access while the Hotspot Shield VPN is connected with you, your device, or your email.

Considering that attackers inject code into websites to trick users into visiting malicious portals, I don’t think legitimate software should ever engage in this practice. Thankfully, AnchorFree confirms that it no longer injects ads into websites—nor do any of the other VPN services in my best-of list.

The only time you see ads with AnchorFree is if you use the free service on the company’s Android app. AnchorFree notes that some obfuscated location information is shared with advertisers, although paid customers are not subject to this practice. I’d rather AnchorFree found a way to avoid sharing any location information. From the privacy policy: If you are using the premium Hotspot Shield Elite version this approximate city-level location will not be collected and will not be shared.

A company representative explained that each VPN server monitors the sites requested, divorced of information about who requests it, in order to determine if services are being blocked or are otherwise unreachable. Using Twitter as an example, the representative said that if the company were to see tens of thousands of requests for Twitter and only a handful the next day, that would be indicative of someone censoring Twitter in a particular region.

The company takes pains to say that this information cannot be attributed to a specific user. I was troubled by previous wording regarding this specific issue, but have accepted the explanation and no longer consider it to be an explicit threat to privacy. Elsewhere in its Privacy Policy is this passage, which at first blush looks quite concerning: We may also use, but never log or store, your IP address to derive your approximate city-level location. We use this information to provide and improve the services, troubleshoot, and perform analytics on our services.

Our service providers may collect IP addresses for marketing attribution purposes. The representative explained, “We ensure that these analytics services don’t use the data for any other purpose besides attribution of the download to the channel of where this download came from. The information is needed only to know that a device downloaded our application from a specific website. In it, the company said it provided no identifiable information, and extensively discussed how AnchorFree Hotspot Shield does not store users’ real IP addresses.

That’s great, as is the effort put forth by the company to make a transparency report in the first place. TunnelBear underwent a code audit to publicly verify its efforts toward customer security. CyberGhost has taken similar efforts.

For example, it acknowledges that other companies can still track your movements across the web with cookies and beacons, even when the VPN is active. It also spells out nearly every instance of information gathering carried out by the company, why the information is gathered, and how AnchorFree mitigates threats to user privacy. AnchorFree further adds assurances about its ad operations and is emphatic that it does not sell user data. Company representatives have made similar assurances to me directly.

I ask every VPN company to outline how it generates revenue, as it’s important to understand whether or not companies are data-mining or otherwise “selling” their customers. My AnchorFree contact said that the company only draws revenue from subscriptions, ads served to free users of the Android app, and company licensing.

It does say something that so many other companies have signed off on AnchorFree’s services, especially those like Bitdefender that stake their reputation on customer security. Some readers may balk at the advertising based model for the free version of Hotspot Shield, but the company argues that these activities are necessary to deliver a quality product, particularly for free users. Moreover, it contends that what information it collects cannot be tied back to specific individuals. In addition to a company’s privacy policy, it’s important to know where a company is located in order to understand what legal framework it operates under.

Some countries, for example, require companies to retain specific information for set periods of time. In fact, Switzerland is one of the better places to store data, if privacy is a major concern. I always advise readers to look at a company’s policy and decide for themselves if they are comfortable with it.

Why Firewall is Important

At the moment of writing this article, Hotspot boasts over million downloads worldwide. Most likely this puts the provider at the top. At least in this aspect. The secret? However, since maintaining a global VPN network is pretty costly even if Hotspot Shield only offers 25 country locations , a Premium service had to be launched as well. On a more positive note, the Premium version of this VPN has quite good speeds. Still, you may not want to use this VPN for anything truly sensitive.

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