HideMyAss Review 2017: The most popular VPN

HideMyAss Review 2017
  • Price
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Support

Summary

There is much to praise about Hide My Ass VPN, but being based in the UK means they may not be able to guarantee user privacy, and this drawback undermines all their other good work.

Pros

  • Nicely designed and easy to use apps.
  •  A nifty range of free additional services.
  • 30-day money back guarantee and a 7-day free trial with mobile apps.
  • The biggest range of servers and locations around.

Cons

  •  Speeds are not always the quickest.
  •  Encryption is sufficient but not the best.
  •  Price is a little on the steep side.
  •  UK locations means unable to guarantee user privacy.
3.2

Hide My Ass is one of the best-known VPNs on the market and its purchase by AVG in 2015, who produce one of the world’s most popular anti-virus software tools, has only served to reinforce its reputation.

It has been around since 2005 when it was set up in the UK and it makes all the usual claims about guaranteeing privacy and offering high-speed connection. The question is whether or not it still lives up to these claims.

I have been putting it through its paces for the past few weeks to see if it lives up to its lofty reputation and have reached some unexpected conclusions for one of the biggest names in the VPN marketplace. If you want to know my conclusions, keep reading below.

The Packages:

To begin, let’s have a look at Hide My Ass’s pricing structure. This is typical of many VPNs with three different packages on offer, for a one month, six months, and one-year subscription option:

  • One Monthly: A one-month subscription plan currently costs US$11.52
  • Six Monthly: A six-month subscription plan will currently cost $8.33 a month, made as a bi-annual payment of $49.99
  • Annually: A one-year subscription plan to their full service for US$6.55 a month, made as an annual payment of $78.66

These prices are on the high side compared to many of Hide My Ass’s rivals and there is also a considerable difference depending on how long you are willing to sign up for. The difference between a one month and a one year contract is 43% meaning there is a big incentive to commit to VPN for a longer period.

Hide My Ass also offers a fantastic 30-day money back guarantee which means that you can get a full refund at any time during the first thirty days of your subscription, regardless of which packages you have gone for. This offer is becoming more common amongst the big VPN providers but is by no means universal at the moment, so it’s great to see Hide My Ass still offering it.

There is also a hidden trick for getting a free 7-day trial of Hide My Ass. If you download their iOS or Android App, this is an option on first opening the app, although you do have to sign up to pay for a 7-day subscription after the free trial has ended, which is a bit of a catch.

They also accept a wide variety of different payment types including Credit Cards, PayPal, CashU, WebMoney, and importantly for those who really value their privacy, the totally anonymous Bitcoin.

The payment process itself is a straightforward one, although Hide My Ass does not process credit card payments itself, but rather forwards the user to a service called Avangate, which it states complies with all online security standards, but which does not provide any further details.

Avangate probably is secure, but for users intent on privacy, this is likely to be a concern. And it is not the only one that Hide My Ass will throw up either.

The Service:

My Hide My Ass package was a one-month review subscription giving me access to all their features, but my understanding is that all packages offer users a standard service regardless of length.

On their desktop app, Hide My Ass can support both OpenVPN and PPTP protocols, with OpenVPN being the standard and PPTP available in the settings menu, but with a warning that it may slow performance down.

L2TP/IPSec is also available, but if you want to use it you will still have to set things up manually, which for most users is either too much hassle or beyond their technical capability.

But, putting all this aside, how good is the service and the performance of Hide My Ass once it gets up and running?

Custom Software & Apps

Windows

The Hide My Ass desktop app is simple to download and has a visually clear appearance. The home screen presents users with three options; Instant Mode, Location Mode, and Freedom Mode.

Instant Mode, as the name suggests allows users to connect to Hide My Ass with a single click. The app will automatically connect you to the fastest available server for your location and after waiting for just a few seconds, you are connected and ready to go.

The Location Mode tab allows users to select which server they would like to connect to from a list of countries and cities. It will also allow users to select some of their favourite connections to allow them to find them quickly and easily in the future.

And finally, Freedom mode will connect you to the closest server to your location which is in a country which allows freedom of speech and doesn’t censor the internet. So should you be logging on in China, you will be automatically connected to a server in neighbouring countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Japan.

HideMyAss Desktop

So far, so good, and indeed so straightforward. The About HMA tab allows you to read information such as their Privacy policy and Refund policy while the Preferences tab allows users to personalise how the app operates (such as whether it opens automatically on start-up) and also switch between OpenVPN and PPTP protocols.

Below that the Account tab lets users manage their account while the help tab offers access to Hide My Ass’ range of customer support options, about which more below.

Below that are options to view a diagnostic page, leave feedback, and log off. That’s is the extent of the service on offer. It’s simple, but for the majority of users, it does have everything you are likely to need available.

iOS

Hide My Ass does also offer dedicated apps for Apple and Android mobile device users. I used the iOS app during the month I was testing it and amongst the initial stand out features was the option of a free 7-day trial, which was not evident on the Hide My Ass website or desktop app (details can be found above).

The app offers a similarly simple layout, with three options on the home page; Help Me Choose, Server Location, and IP Address.

Help Me Choose gives the option to ‘Secure my Internet’, ‘Choose a Country’, ‘Paranoid Mode’, and ‘Anti-Censorship’.

As the names suggest, ‘Secure my Internet’ will automatically connect you to the fastest secure server for your location, ‘Choose a Country’ lets you choose a server by location, ‘Paranoid Mode’ appears to select the best server not in your current location for you, whilst ‘Anti-Censorship’ works like the Freedom Mode and connects you to the nearest server in a country which doesn’t censor online content.

On the App, when you are connected, the Hide My Ass donkey logo will be waving a little flag of the country you are hooked up to, which is a nice little touch.

The menu tab at the top contains fewer options, but all the core ones including managing your account and accessing customer support are there.

Both the Android and desktop apps are an improvement on the previous ones both in terms of design and usability.

Server Locations

This is the one area where Hide My Ass really stands out from the pack because they offer more servers and locations than any other VPN I have come across to date.

There is a total of more than 860 servers available across more than 340 locations in 190+ countries. Indeed Hide My Ass claim to offer an astonishing number of IP Address, more than 110,000 in total.

HideMyAss Servers

Unlike some VPN providers, Hide My Ass has a good spread of locations as well. Yes, there are a lot of VPN servers in the USA and Europe, but they are also available in five African countries, across South America and Asia, and even in some less common locations like China and Russia.

This broad spread of VPN servers and IP Addresses will be more than enough for any user and is likely to cover pretty much any eventuality you can think of. Whatever you want to use Hide My Ass VPN for, they will have a server for your needs.

It should be noted however that some servers are “Virtual Servers” and the physical server is not actually in that particular country.

While you can appear as if you are in that country if you specifically want your data to pass through a certain country then you need to be aware this may not be the case with Hide My Ass.

Indeed the only other criticism that could be levelled at Hide My Ass in this section, is that perhaps they should have been focusing a little bit less on expanding their server network, and a little bit more on other areas of their service.

General Observations

The feature which Hide My Ass is really missing is multiple app connectivity. All accounts are restricted to a maximum of 2 device connections at any one time and in the current high-tech, multiple gadget households, that isn’t nearly enough. A limit of at least 5 should be the minimum allowed and that was certainly a disappointment for me.

Some of the features we mentioned in our previous review, such as the Secure IP Bind, which worked like a kill switch, appear to have been dropped in the name of streamlining the service and keeping things simple. For some users that will be a plus, while others are likely to miss them.

We also previously praised their server load balancing feature, which would automatically recommend nearby servers if your favourite one is busy. If this feature is still there, it is running in the background without the users being aware. If it has gone, then that’s a shame as it was a good feature.

A look on the Hide My Ass website will reveal a number of other features that they do offer, which are not directly related to their VPN service and therefore not in evidence on their desktop or iOS app.

These include a Free Proxy Service, which allows you to bypass geo-restriction online by simply entering the web address and the country you want to connect through. The service itself is slower than their VPN however.

They also offer an anonymous email service which allows you to hide your email when signing up for online accounts and services and an anonymous Link referrer which allows users to create anonymous links which cannot be traced back to you.

These features are all nice but don’t add anything to the overall VPN service.

The Speeds:

Connection speed is always a tricky thing to assess with a VPN as it is something which includes so many variables, including your own location and internet connection as well as the servers you are looking to connect to.

With Hide My Ass’ myriad of server options, it is impossible to give a comprehensive speed assessment in the confines of this review, so I will have to settle for a general assessment based purely on my own circumstances.

I was located in East Asia when running these tests and therefore tried out Hide My Ass servers located in this part of the world as well as in the most popular locations of the UK and the USA. I used the OpenVPN protocol for all of these tests but did try out both the desktop and iOS app.

Speeds were on the face of it a little disappointing, with drops of 50% and even more not uncommon compared to my regular connection speed. The servers in East Asia did fare a little better with drops of between 25% and 30% in speed experienced.

But whilst this may sound poor, I should stress that all of my connections proved to be perfectly fast enough to carry out the full range of everyday tasks such browsing online, emailing and messaging, and even streaming content without interruption. Speeds were fairly consistent too and I never encountered any problems such as connections dropping.

Hide My Ass is not going to set any records for the fastest VPN on the market, but in fairness nor does it claim to. But it is fast enough for all but the most data-intensive of users and as noted above the only disappointment is the inability to connect up more devices at the same time.

The Encryption, Policies & Support:

Encryption

As we noted above, Hide My Ass supports both OpenVPN and PPTP protocols, as well as L2TP/IPSec.

OpenVPN still uses BF-CBC and 128-bit encryption. As we noted previously, this is still at the lower end of the scale and something HideMyAss really needs to address as a matter of urgency as it leaves them lagging behind the majority of their rivals, who almost all now offer 256-bit encryption.

They also continue to offer PPTP, using MPPE protocol for encryption, with RSA RC4 algorithm and 128-bit keys. But PPTP is not recommended in this day and age as it isn’t nearly secure enough.

On the plus side, they do offer L2TP, using IPSec with 256 bit key for encryption, 3DES/AES algorithm. However, this protocol requires a manual setup, which will be beyond the capability of many users.

HideMyAss do also now use a 2048-bit RSA key on their handshaking.

Overall, encryption levels with Hide My Ass are just about acceptable, but they do not appear to be keeping pace with market developments on encryption and this looks likely to be a big problem in the making.

Policies

Hide My Ass is located in the UK and over the past twelve months that looks to have become a real problem for them. Because last year the UK passed a new law called the Investigatory Powers Act, a piece of surveillance legislation which includes a requirement for UK-based ISPs to record all users internet activity for a period of one year.

However, the precise wording of this piece of the law uses the term ‘Connection Service Providers’ rather than ‘Internet Service Providers’ and this is problematic for Hide My Ass.

It is not yet clear, but it seems likely that a UK-based VPN, such as Hide My Ass, could well be considered as a ‘Connection Service Provider’ under the terms of the new law. This would mean that Hide My Ass would be required to collect internet records on all of their users and hold that information for a year.

It should be stressed that at this point in time, the definition of a ‘Connection Service Provider’ has not been tested in the UK courts, but the risk is undoubtedly there and as such the law is a big black mark for Hide My Ass.

Looking at their current privacy policy, Hide My Ass do insist that they do not collect details of websites visited on the desktop and that on mobile devices this data is anonymised. They also state that the data is only retained for 2-3 months unless required to retain it for longer for legal reasons.

According to the policy, they will store a time stamp and IP Address whenever a user connects to their VPN. They will also record the amount of data transmitted and the IP Address you were connected to. They will also collect data about usage from mobile devices.

The fact is that, regardless of whether the Investigatory Powers Act is determined to apply to them of not, Hide My Ass’s privacy set-up is nothing like as secure as the majority of their competitors.

With the exception of intrusive regimes such as China and Russia, the UK seems to be just about the worst country in the world for a VPN to be located in right now. And until Hide My Ass decide to relocate, and introduces some significant enhancement to their policies, their ability to deliver effective privacy protection is always going to be questionable.

Support

Lastly, we turn to Hide My Ass’ customer support, which I have to admit shows them in their best light once again. The home page of their website contains a help icon in the bottom right corner at all times which lets you ask a question whenever you need to.

Whilst it is slightly annoying that the help option opens automatically when you go to the subscription page, this link is usually a helpful one.

Beyond that, they offer the full range of support, with a very responsive and knowledgeable live chat service, a pretty rapid email response, and a wide array of FAQ’s and guides to help you with pretty much any problem you might encounter.

They also have a user forum which seems to have regular engagement from their support staff and also active social media profiles on all the usual platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

All-in-all, their customer service was on a par with all of their major rivals and is an example to many. But sadly, it does not make up for the flaws elsewhere in their service.

The Verdict:

Sadly, for all of the positives there are about Hide My Ass, there is one crucial area where they badly let themselves down.

When it comes to the number of servers and IP Addresses available, and the sheer scale of locations catered for, Hide My Ass is the best around. Their customer service is right up with the best too, and they offer apps on both desktop and mobile platforms which are well designed and user-friendly.

When it comes to price, they are not the cheapest, but neither are they the most expensive either and for a top-of-the-range VPN, their charges could not be considered unreasonable.

Likewise, while their speeds and encryption are not the very best you will find, they could be a lot worse too and for most VPN users, what is offered by Hide My Ass is more than sufficient for their needs.

But where they are really let down is their inability to guarantee user privacy. Being based in the UK means that they are simply unable to do this as UK law does not permit them to.

For some users, this might not matter, but for most, signing up for a VPN is a tool to protect your online privacy from unwanted snooping and surveillance.

This is something that at the present time Hide My Ass are unable to offer and until such time as they are able to relocate out of the UK, or the UK laws are changed, this will be the reason why reviewers, no matter how reluctantly, will be unable to recommend their service.