The bottom line: The Internet connection protector Hotspot Shield encrypts your traffic to protect you from all kinds of spying while your computer communicates with the rest of the world. It's a must-have utility for anybody who uses public Wi-Fi networks.
The Internet connection protector Hotspot Shield encrypts your traffic to protect you from all kinds of spying while your computer communicates with the rest of the world. It's a must-have utility for anybody who uses public Wi-Fi networks, but it's also an excellent tool for ensuring on any network connection that you can access sites and data according to your tastes, and nobody else's. Hotspot Shield's Virtual Private Network services are used by more than 10 million at the time this review was written, according to the software publisher AnchorFree, making it the largest VPN in the world.
The browser-independent Hotspot Shield establishes an encrypted connection to the Hotspot Shield servers, and turns all HTTP traffic to the safer HTTPS. By rerouting Web traffic and providing you with a new IP address hosted by AnchorFree, the company is able to ensure that your data isn't plucked out of the open by man-in-the-middle attacks or wireless network spoofing.
In our tests, we noticed that sometimes the program would actually resolve pages faster than when connected without it. This occurs, most likely, because of the geographic location of the company's servers. During a day of hands-on testing on the notoriously pokey CNET public Wi-Fi network, we noticed that Hotspot Shield Elite was remarkably fast. There were no connection lags despite the re-routing, and the program admirably handled high-definition streaming videos from sites such as Vimeo, YouTube, and CNET TV. We'd recommend the program for improving the Wi-Fi speeds alone, nevermind the additional security benefits.
The free version of Hotspot Shield does come at a small cost. The installation opts you in to two toolbars, one from Hotspot Shield and one from Conduit, which redirects your default search and home page. Also, whenever you activate Hotspot Shield, it will open a new tab to AnchorFree.com and begin autoplaying a video. That's seriously annoying, even in a free product that offers such a valuable service. Still, the toolbars and redirects are optional.
Once installed, it appears as a red system tray icon that turns to green when activated. Right-click to toggle it on or off. Choosing the Properties option opens a new browser tab that tells you that you're connected. Hit the Details link to learn more about your connection, including the VPN IP address, amount of data sent in and out, and how long you've been connected. The data transfer rate makes for a useful, quick-and-dirty gauge for people with data caps.
Hotspot Shield now offers an Elite service, which runs ad-free. Elite costs $0.50 per 24 hour session, with a minimum $10 deposit, or $5 per month, or $45 per year. Payment options include credit card, PayPal, prepaid cash cards or mobile phone payments via premium SMS. Aside from Hotspot Shield Elite's preferential bandwidth priority and lack of ads, there are no built-in additional features in Elite. However, at the time this review was written, AnchorFree had arranged a deal with Skype so that new Elite users get two hours of Skype talk time free when signing up.
The company has created multiple ways to circumvent download blockers in countries with strict censorship, too. If you can't access a Web page with the download, you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for the Windows version or email@example.com for the Mac version, and the small installer file will be sent directly to you.
Note that although the Windows version is 2.06, and the Mac version is 1.582, the features are the same.
Even with the installation shenanigans, we highly recommend Hotspot Shield for anybody concerned with privacy. In today's world, that ought to be anybody connecting a computer to the Internet.