Hotspot Shield VPN Review (2021) // Pros and Cons
The good: Hotspot Shield has a very clear no-logs policy and doesn’t track anything you do online. It also uses its own Hydra Catapult protocol, which is much faster than OpenVPN. Moreover, it implements high security AES-256 encryption, and features a key lock.
bad: It does not use its own DNS servers.
What privacy and security items do we test?
- Registration Policy
- Private DNS Servers
- kill test key
- leak test
1. Registration Policy
What is the registration policy and why is it important?
Every app developer wants to know how their app is used, who is using it, and how to improve its performance to attract more users. VPN providers are no exception.
Although you may not expect them to collect information about their users – the purpose of a VPN is to provide anonymity on the Internet – most VPN providers still do. This information is stored in logs. The amount and type of data providers they maintain in user records varies, but typically falls into one or more of the following four categories:
- Service information: Anonymous information about the VPN server you are using to browse the web, your device operating system (OS), and the version of the VPN client you are using.
- Contact information: Anonymous information showing the dates, times and duration of browsing sessions and the volume of incoming and outgoing traffic for each session.
- IP information: This information reveals the IP address from which you connected to the service and can be used to determine your exact actual location.
- Activity information: Comprehensive information about your browsing activity which can include the addresses of websites you visit while using the Service, as well as your search history.
You usually don’t have to worry about the first two categories of information – service and contact. As indicated, this data is collected anonymously and is typically aggregated with similar data collected from other users in order to derive usage and performance statistics.
The only reason a VPN service provider needs your actual IP address is to know where their service is being used. While this isn’t a huge deal from their point of view, it may be a deal breaker for users looking for a 100% secure and anonymous browsing experience.
However, there is absolutely no need for a VPN to spy on your online activity. If your service provider keeps records of the websites you visit, the online services you use, and the searches you make on the web, you shouldn’t take it seriously. 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 service providers we endorse collect personal information about their users.
What is Hotspot Shield’s registration policy?
Hotspot Shield has a very clear no-logs policy: it doesn’t log your browsing data and deletes your IP address after you disconnect from the VPN. So you are completely anonymous on the internet.
Many VPNs, being relatively small companies, have vague privacy policies. This can be a problem, because you don’t really know what is being stored. Hotspot Shield is not a small company. Having more than 650 million users worldwide, means that it wants to be clear about what data is being collected. 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 not stored: Your online activity (the websites you visit and the services you use) are not tracked or stored.
What is a jurisdiction and why is it important?
Like any other business, the VPN provider must operate in compliance with the laws and regulations of the country or state in which they are registered. The country in which the provider is incorporated and the laws it must comply with are referred to as the jurisdiction.
Many developed countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada, as well as most of the member states of the European Union, have very strict data retention laws. Internet service providers (ISPs) in those countries must comply with these laws by keeping records of their users’ browsing and email exchange activity. ISPs must also make this information available to authorities when they request it. To protect their privacy, many people use VPNs, making their personal information invisible even to their ISP.
Since VPNs are private network providers, public data retention regulations do not apply to them. Despite this, government agencies are still trying to seize servers and data logs from VPN providers.
For example, any federal agency can provide a VPN service with a National Security Letter, a secret subpoena that allows them to access data logs and VPN servers. In 2013, encrypted email provider Lavabit decided to shut down its operations after the National Security Agency presented it with a single letter requesting access to Edward Snowden’s emails. Similarly, facing pressure from local authorities regarding data retention laws, Private Internet Access abruptly shut down all of its servers in Russia in 2016.
There are many examples of government agencies trying to confiscate data from VPN providers, but most of them have not been disclosed to the public. To protect yourself from such scenarios, you need to:
- Use a VPN registered in a country with loose or nonexistent data retention laws and no active membership in intelligence treaties such as Fourteen Eyes or UKUSA.
- Use a VPN that has a strict no-logs policy and does not log any sensitive information that would reveal its users’ location, identity, browsing habits or contents of private conversations.
What is the specialty of Hotspot Shield?
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 (ISPs) in the US are allowed to collect and sell your data, the National Security Agency actively conducts mass surveillance, and government agencies can attempt to seize data from companies using court orders.
As clearly stated in Hotspot Shield’s Transparency Report It is regularly contacted by law enforcement agencies from the United States and abroad, to identify users based on IP addresses related to Hotspot Shield VPN servers.
But since Hotspot Shield does not collect information about its users, it cannot hand over any information. Since 2016, it has received hundreds of data requests. But she never delivered anything.
This is the power of a strict log policy. You are safe with Hotspot Shield. Even in the United States.
What is a protocol and why is it important?
The way data is transmitted over the Internet, a private network, or a local area network (LAN) is determined by a protocol. The VPN protocol defines how a VPN tunnel is built between your computer and the VPN server.
There are a few different protocols that provide different levels of encryption, security, and speed. The most secure is OpenVPN, while PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, and IKEv2 are also widely used.
What protocols does Hotspot Shield use?
Hotspot Shield uses Hydra Catapult. This is an in-house developed VPN protocol
In the past, Hotspot Shield used IPSec and OpenVPN protocol, but developed its own protocol to improve its performance. And with great success: Hotspot Shield is the world’s fastest VPN to date.
Compared to OpenVPN, Hydra Catapult has much faster connection times and much higher connection speeds over long distances.
What is encryption and why is it important?
Encryption is the technology that keeps the data you send and receive over the Internet secure. An encryption key is used to temporarily convert readable data into unreadable data for secure transmission over the Internet. In order to decrypt the data and make it readable again, both the sender and receiver need access to this key.
There are two main VPN encryption standards in widespread use nowadays, and both are subtypes of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The first is AES-128, which uses a 128-character key to protect the data. While AES-128 is not really hackable, there is also AES-256. As the name suggests, it keeps data hidden behind a 256-character key, making it more secure than its 128-character counterpart.
What encryption standard does Hotspot Shield use?
Hotspot Shield uses the most secure encryption standard, AES-256.
5. Private DNS servers
What are DNS servers and why are they important?
Every website on the Internet has its own IP address, a seemingly random string of numbers that identifies the host server. Remembering all these numbers can be tricky, to say the least, which is why each IP address has a matching domain name that is easy to memorize (such as “Netflix.com”).
When you type a domain name into your browser’s address bar, the DNS server immediately looks for the corresponding IP address and redirects you to it. Information about IP addresses and related domain names is stored on the server itself. In this sense, a DNS server is like a phone book of the Internet.
Your ISP doesn’t see the domains you’ve visited, but it keeps records of the IP addresses you’ve interacted with. If your VPN provider has their own DNS servers, the DNS-IP conversion will be done 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 to limit your access to certain IP addresses.
Does Hotspot Shield Use Its Own DNS Servers?
No, Hotspot Shield uses third-party DNS servers.
6. Kill switch test
What is a key lock and why is it important?
If your VPN connection drops suddenly during a browsing session, your personal data will not be encrypted and will therefore 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 your internet connection when a connection fails and reconnects you once the VPN server of your choice is activated again.
Does Hotspot Shield Use a Lock Key?
Yes, Hotspot Shield uses a lock key.
7. Leakage test
What is “leakage” and why is it important?
Although VPNs are designed to encrypt all of your data, parts of it may remain visible to others even while you are connected to the VPN server. Examples of these “data leaks” include IP leaks (where your IP address is visible to others), WebRTC leaks (content of audio and video chats), DNS leaks (domain names of sites you visit), and Windows credentials leaks (Windows login information) .
Is Hotspot Shield Leaking Your Data?
No, Hotspot shields did not leak any data in our tests.