Over the past two weeks we’ve been looking at most likely the biggest VPN provider in the industry. Doing a HideMyAss Review is something we have wanted to bring you for some time and so we are pleased to be able to answer your queries about how good or bad their service is. Not only are HideMyAss one of the biggest providers of VPN services to the general public but they also have a long running history too. Loved by thousands of everyday “Joe’s” we take a look to see if one of the biggest players on the market lives up to their reputation.
The Website & Packages:
The HideMyAss website has a variety of functions not only dedicated to their paid for VPN service. Strangely enough their opening page presents you with access to a web proxy which is a feature that isn’t replicated at any other provider’s website that we have visited in the past. This is a free service and is handy for browsing basic websites more anonymously than visiting directly via your own internet connection. There are a range of other free features to be made use of along side the web proxy which include an updated proxy list, anonymous email service, privacy software, a file upload option plus a system to generate anonymous links to other sites that you can share.
Aside from the range of free services on offer you’ll be mostly interested in the paid for VPN service as none of the free features can compare to what is offered by HideMyAss in terms of VPN service. HMA title the service “ProVPN” which is accessible at their site by following the same named link. The area of the website dedicated to the VPN service is very well covered giving you details on prices, a full list of server locations, details on their custom software plus further terms of service details and payment options. It is nice to see Live Help available in the bottom corner of the site should you have any pre-sales questions at this point.
As with many VPN providers there is only one type of package available which from a new user perspective removes any uncertainty which may occur if there was a range of packages. The target market of HideMyAss is the general everyday user and as such it seems a good idea to limit the package choice to the minimum possible. Package length choices come in 1 Month, 6 Months and 12 Months varieties which similar to many companies in the industry reduces the monthly cost the longer service you commit to. Prices for the available packages are as follows :-
- One Month – US$11.52 (Approx £6.90 / €8.38)
- Six Months – US$49.99 (Approx £29.95 / €21.78)
- 12 Months – US$78.66 (Approx £47.12 / €57.21)
Bi-annually the monthly cost is brought down to US$8.33 with the yearly package coming in at a per month cost of US$6.55. These prices put the service in the medium price range and it is definitely worth considering a yearly package if you envisage your use will require such a time period due to the near 50% saving that is obtained by taking an annual subscription.
A good range of payment options are available with a few non-standard ones for those who struggle to access what would be classed, the regular options. These include Paypal, Credit/Debit Cards, Bitcoin, WebMoney plus Wire Transfer.
One of my initial fears about HideMyAss was that due to their size and target market that somehow the standard protocol options would be limited or restricted to be accessed only in a way which was seen fit by themselves (ie; their own software) but I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only are the full protocol range of PPTP, L2TP/IPSec AND OpenVPN available but the configuration files especially in the case of OpenVPN are easily accessible if you wish to make connection directly without the use of custom software provided.
For those who prefer to make use of custom software for the service users are well covered with software available for Windows, Mac, Linux and iPhone/iPad. I was quite shocked to see that currently there is no custom software for Android devices which for a company as big as these is something I would of expected. Users of DD-WRT routers are also covered with guides on how to set-up. For those who wish to make use of PPTP and L2TP/IPSec directly then there are guides and information available with further help for a range of systems and OpenVPN direct connections in the HMA Wiki area. The Wiki pages are quite extensive (although now discontinued for updates and replaced with their support system) with a range of articles covering topics such as saving your password in OpenVPN and how to install configuration files. For novices who wish to expand their understanding and knowledge of VPN systems there are some interesting and useful guides available.
In terms of types of IP used these are Dynamic meaning that each time you connect you are given a completely random IP Address and for the entire session you are the only user who will be assigned that address. There is a lot of talk about the differences between Dynamic and Shared IP addresses and which are safer. In general Shared IP addresses are considered the more anonymous type as many users are carrying out tasks using the same IP address, however for the majority of users Dynamic IP addresses will be sufficient as they mask your home connection address and to any site you visit or service you use they will only ever see the HideMyAss address thus giving you that greater layer of anonymity.
Dynamic IP addresses would allow HMA to pin a specific action down to your account if required by law due to them being assigned to you at a specific time but unless you’re planning on using the service for illegal reasons which is not only against the TOS but also… illegal, you have nothing to worry about.
Following on from IP types one of the superior features of HideMyAss due to the longevity of the service and the expansions that they have made means you have access to a huge range of both IP addresses, servers and country locations. With over 69,500 IP addresses available and 569 servers they are literally a HUGE company. With most providers we usually reserve this section to rattle off the handful of countries that are available to connect to but due to the wealth of available locations there just isn’t space, with access in 64 countries and counting there are access points in basically every corner of the world. North America is widely covered and bar a few countries the majority of Europe is also well catered for.
The Middle East, Central and East Asia are covered with Australia and New Zealand also putting in an appearance with a handful of servers. Central and South America make their mark with HideMyAss being one of the few providers who not only have a few servers in North Africa (Egypt and Morocco) but also in South Africa. In terms of country access alone I am certain that the service is unbeatable and for those who frequently travel or users in countries that are usually under resourced then this is an area where HMA excel and will be a massive advantage to you should you fall in to that category.
One of the best aspects of such a large range of country choices which are accessible to all users is you have access to a huge range of geo-restricted content worldwide so no matter what countries services you wish to access then everything from Spotify to Netflix and more are possible when using HideMyAss. There are only a select few VPN providers who offer nearly as many country choices as HMA but even those are 10-15 countries away at least and so for the widest possible choice then you can’t go wrong.
Custom software is one big area which HideMyAss strive to exceed in. With software available for a range of systems I opted to make use of the Windows edition. The first impression of the software is the wealth of options available. While most providers opt for the minimalistic approach, HMA have gone in the opposite direction and offer a fully loaded, feature driven interface. Connections types available on the software include the PPTP and OpenVPN protocols either via TCP or UDP so those who wish to make use of L2TP/IPSec will need to set up manually using one of their online guides. While feature rich it is not overly difficult to use which will appeal to those new to the VPN market or only looking to make use of a VPN for a specific task.
The main screen of the interface dedicates itself to the most critical features being the login and password area with a quick connect section allowing the full list of servers to be viewed in a drop down menu. The bottom half shows the connection log in which you can view the various automatic commands scroll by while connection is made. From this perspective it is extremely easy to use and as an example if you had a specific need that you wished to carry out like watching BBC iPlayer while outside the UK or something similar then you can quickly select a UK server, make connection and then get on with that task without leaving the main area of the software, ideal for the beginner.
For those who like a bit more customisation there is a specific section dedicated to country selection, this contains an extensive array of options to assist you on finding the most suitable server. Options include searching by country or city, finding the closest geographical servers to your location, servers with the fastest ping, servers separated by country and then a section that allows connecting to a random server either completely or by custom parameters. This section alone is something unique to the software provided and I haven’t seen such a wide range of options offered by other providers.
HideMyAss Map View
There are a wealth of further options available within the custom software and too many to go in to great detail about but in summary other sections cover changing your IP address randomly on intervals set by yourself, a type of kill switch that binds certain programs so if the connection dropped unexpectedly the software would stop those programs functioning over your home connection which is a rather good option and not one that all providers include in their software.
A speed guide allows you to test which servers are fastest for you based on your current physical location. A full map is available showing the whole range of server locations worldwide which is great for visually assisting you understand the extensive network. Clicking allows you to connect directly to any of the servers displayed with your current location also being highlighted. Final areas cover your billing details, the ability to email or access live help plus further settings which allow you to have the software boot on system start up, automatically connect and such like.
One final feature which was rather interesting and helpful was the option to Load Balance. What this does is notify you if the server you’re connecting to is being used by many other users at that time and suggests the next closest server that may be less utilised giving you a better overall experience and balancing out the total user base across the network. If you’re like me then on custom software if you’re offered the choice of 10 servers in a specific country without seeing any difference then I tend to pick the first and as such plenty of other users will be doing the same, by being alerted to this fact it allows you to make use of a server with less users which as a by-product makes the whole network more evenly utilised giving a better experience for all.
HideMyAss Load Balancing
Upon initially testing the service I came over an area of concern that will effect a small number of users. My standard testing routine is to make use of the UDP protocol because this in most instances I have found offers the better speed, unfortunately HideMyAss offer UDP on port 53 which is also the DNS port, for me this caused an issue and after around 30 seconds my connection kept dropping and rebooting my router. While using TCP which uses a higher port I suffered no such issue. I contacted support which wasn’t overly helpful and in the end after trial and error I came to the conclusion that the port was causing the issue.
Upon trying a higher port with UDP as suggested (in the end, with my help) by HMA I found no such issues and connection via OpenVPN using UDP with said higher port gave good results. Although one concern as a side issue I noticed that it isn’t possible to specify the port in the custom software that is provided. For me that wasn’t so much of an issue as editing the configuration files and using OpenVPN directly suited me fine but I wonder how a new user would cope if they had read that UDP in general offered a faster speed and attempted to make use of it via the custom software. If they faced the same router rebooting issue as myself with there being no option to specify a higher port they would be unable to resolve the issue without moving away from the software, something which a beginner may find outside of their ability.
After speaking with support they confirmed there was no such option and due to this it would be passed on to the development team. Hopefully because of this we will see an option to specify a port in the future. I must note that not all users will suffer from this issue and it would all depend on how your router reacts to making connection on a port usually reserved for DNS reasons, however it may be a consideration for certain users. I was informed that they had heard of one other user with a similar problem which was surprising considering we make use of the largest cable internet provider in the UK and as such use their supplied router, with HideMyAss being a UK company themselves I find it hard to believe that only one other user has reported a similar issue. For general users making use of the TCP standard protocol would be fine and so the majority of users may not even notice this as an issue.
The service in terms of speed, browsing and carrying out general internet tasks was great. I was able to surf regularly making use of the Netherlands, Iceland and Swiss servers and didn’t experience any problems in terms of slow access of websites etc. Connecting to a handful of the US servers to access Hulu worked like a charm and I was able to stream in the highest possible quality without any buffering issues or jerkiness. Although based in the UK ourselves I attempted to connect to a range of UK servers to check that accessing services like iPlayer and ITV player weren’t blocked and found no problems in this regard. I have no reason to think that anyone outside the UK would have issues watching iPlayer or other UK TV streaming services from abroad.
The standard process for our review system is to look at a selection of servers within a reasonable distance to our physical location, as we’re located in the UK most of these are European servers although we do usually test at least one US server to ensure services like Hulu are accessible from outside the US. We use a well known UK website to download a 1GB test file. We make use of a download manager to open concurrent connections when possible and make use of the UDP protocol. Speeds may vary for yourself depending on your physical location but good results from a cluster of servers we test usually gives a good indication that other worldwide servers from the same company will have equally good results.
The servers tested listed in order below are Iceland, Manchester – UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Florida – USA & New Jersey – USA.
HideMyAss Off-Peak Speeds
HideMyAss Peak Speeds
The Encryption & Policies:
When connecting to any VPN provider it is always optimal to make use of OpenVPN where possible for the increased security it offers. HideMyAss use encryption on the lower end of the scale opting to use the standard BF-CBC with a 128 bit key which although is acceptable and secure it would be nice to see them move forward in the near future to offer ciphers similar to what is available at most other providers. Again the handshaking key also known as the “Control Channel” makes use of a 1024 bit RSA key which although at the lower end of the acceptable scale could do with being improved upon especially since the recommendation of phasing out this size of key came at the end of 2013 and I would hope to see HMA moving forward in terms of encryption and key size in the very near future.
PPTP uses MPPE-128bit with MS-CHAPv2 authentication.
L2TP is in use with IPSec and allows the following encryption protocols, TWOFISH_CBC, SERPENT_CBC, AES_CBC, BLOWFISH_CBC.
After carefully reading through both the Privacy and Logging policies of HMA there are no overly huge surprises. As is to be expected with any large VPN provider there are certain aspects of the service which are recorded and certain users may wish to pay careful attention to these which we highlight below. From a non-legal perspective the policies are nice and clear and do not attempt to distract using legal or technical jargon. It is refreshing to see such an open set of policies so that you as the user can be aware of the specifics before signing up.
Areas to consider include recording of your user data and IP address should you sign up to the site for up to 2 years which is in place even if you do not sign up to a service, for those who do take a service your details can be stored for the entire length of your contract plus 2 years after you finish your service. Contact via their website ticket system is recorded for 6 months and any direct contact to their staff will be stored for as long as is required.
Each time you make connection to a server your time-stamp, home IP address, data transfer amount and the IP address assigned to you for the session will be recorded for 2-3 months as standard. No record of what websites you visit or activities you get up to are known or recorded although with a dynamic IP address and timestamps any criminal behaviour can be tied to yourself if required by law – so don’t be a naughty boy!
The final area to highlight is if HMA receive contact from any individual or other non-law enforcement agency or company which relates to “wrong-doing(‘s)” by yourself then it may lead to a termination of your account but they will not disclose personal details about you unless required legally.
Support is available via Live Help, Email or by Phone. Live Help is available 24 hours per day for both sales and technical questions. Phone support is available in standard offices hours in the GMT/BST time zone between 9am and 5pm. The HideMyAss website states that they aim to respond to all emails within 12 hours, with those sent between the hours of 8am and 7pm usually within 1 hour.
Unfortunately I found this not to be the case. After experiencing the issue of UDP disconnecting as earlier mentioned in this review I contacted support via email which opened a ticket at 12:11pm. After a day and a half this had still not been answered so I contacted live help to chase it up. I was told that the technical staff had been in a meeting and I could expect a reply soon.
Another good few hours passed and I finally received a response at 03:51am – nearly two full days after opening my ticket. After the initial response, which didn’t resolve the issue it took another two days for it to be responded to by a different support representative. While I appreciate that HideMyAss are a large company and no doubt have an awful lot of support requests to deal with, the time frame I experienced to resolve this was far from what I would expect from a provider of their size and although it could of been a one off experience it seems that more resources need to be applied to the support area for speed of response purposes.
Rather refreshingly being such a large company it lends itself to offering Live Help which is available 24 hours a day and will be a bonus for those located in varying time zones. One of the issues faced with smaller providers is if you’re in a time zone that completely differs to that of the provider then you run the risk of being asleep through the working hours of the company and awake when they’re closed resulting in never being able to access Live Help, this is obviously not the case here. This is one support area which is greatly covered by HMA and although you may have to wait a few minutes in a queue depending on how busy they are it does allow receiving swift answers to either pre-sales or after-sales queries and is something I preferred to make use of throughout the test period afterwards.
The Verdict aka tl;dr:
HideMyAss are one of the biggest, if not the biggest and most well known VPN providers on the market. They are what I would class as the friendly public face of VPNs providing services to the everyday man (or woman!). Their service is definitely appealing to those who wish to secure themselves on public wi-fi, access geo-restricted services such as TV streaming sites plus have a concern regarding their online safety and anonymity.
Access is made extremely easy via their custom software and although lacking software for the Android system all the other major platforms such as Windows, Mac and iPhone/iPad are well covered. It was surprising to see such support for OpenVPN directly along side their software which opens up the service to those mid range users who wish to delve in to the connection side of the service themselves. For the beginner and those who only have reason to use a VPN for one specific purpose and don’t wish to be bogged down with technical jargon and the working sides of things then you will find the service very accessible and easy to use. Live help is available 24 hours per day which for new users will be an added bonus and help resolve any of the general questions in regard to using the service.
Speeds achieved over a range of servers were more than acceptable and some of the better results we have obtained in terms of downloading.
One of the greatest features of the service is the huge range of countries accessible around the world which makes the service ideal for travellers and those who frequent various destinations. For expats of the US and UK there are plenty of servers in both countries which make it an ideal solution for watching Hulu or BBC iPlayer when abroad.
Email support we found to be slow and an area which needs to be improved on in the future. I would also like to see greater encryption levels introduced and a dedicated Android app as the company moves forward as these are currently lacking.
While the service may not appeal to the expert user or more “elite” type computer user due to the medium level encryption and policies there is definitely a huge place in the market for such a wide ranging and public facing company in the VPN industry.
HideMyAss know their target market well and for those who require security or making use of a handful of different tasks then they are definitely worth considering. If you’re the type of user who uses a computer for specific tasks and doesn’t want to be concerned with the workings then HideMyAss will be an ideal solution.
|Price:|| (3.5 / 5)|
|Reliability:|| (4 / 5)|
|Speed:|| (4 / 5)|
|Servers:|| (5 / 5)|
|Policy:|| (4 / 5)|
|Support:|| (3.5 / 5)|
|Average:|| (4 / 5)|
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