HideIPVPN is a personal VPN service that is easy to use, hides your online activity from eavesdroppers, and allows you to spoof your IP address to view content that is restricted to certain geographic areas. VPN technology encrypts all traffic leaving the computer online and ensures data remains hidden from third parties even when on an open wireless network. It has a nice balance of basic features and advanced capabilities, and most users will find the pricing plan that fits their needs.
I downloaded the Windows installer appropriate for my operating system from the website and was up and running within minutes. HideIPVPN supports Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS devices, which is still unusual in this space. Users can also use the VPN credentials to set up proxy servers within the Web browser and other applications, such as Skype.
Like Private Internet Access, the service also has custom instructions for users interested in installing the service on non-standard hardware, but at the moment the list includes only the Nokia N900 and a network router running the popular (and hackable) DD-WRT firmware. All in all, it is a solid VPN service to consider, so long as you don’t need servers outside Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, and United Kingdom. There is also a “Canada-only” plan.
A Refresher on How VPN Services Work
Your Internet service provider assigns your computer an IP address. A geo-location lookup reveals the geographic location of the ISP or the data center containing the server assigning the address. Anyone can perform this lookup and estimate your location. There have also been recent cases when the courts forced Internet companies and ISPs to hand over user information when presented with the IP address.
With a VPN service, users hide in plain sight, as the assigned IP address comes from a server stored in a data center somewhere else.
The service creates an encrypted tunnel between the computer and the destination website or network, and all data flows through that tunnel. Even if you are using a coffee-shop hotspot, you can log into your email or access other accounts without worrying about someone eavesdropping or intercepting data. It’s important to remember that the data is only protected while in transit; if the destination site is not using HTTPS, that part of the connection is unencrypted. Anyone who is sitting at that point of exit can see and harvest that information, and there are fairly complicated timing algorithms out there to identify user activity.
Similar to many of its competitors, HideIPVPN uses OpenVPN SSL technology to create its encrypted tunnel, although SSTP and PPTP connections are also possible. Users can buy packages giving them access to a pool of IP addresses only in one specific country (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, or Germany) for just $5.99 a month, or buy a bundled plan to access servers in up to four countries, the US, UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, for $9.99. The most comprehensive plan, including all four countries, is $14.99, which puts it slightly on the pricier end among other VPN services.
Most VPN services block users from using peer-to-peer services or accessing files via BitTorrent while connected. Offenders usually get blocked from the service. HideIPVPN treats the problem slightly differently. Instead of blocking the users entirely, the company offers a dedicated P2P/BitTorrent plan for $7.99, where users connect to Dutch and German servers and start downloading. Users can easily upgrade or downgrade the plan each month.
Users interested in trying out the service before buying can download the trial, which is capped at three hours of usage. It would have been nice to see a more full-fledged trial version, especially since three hours online (that’s three hours after creating the account, not three hours of usage) is pretty limiting. The free trial version does allow users to connect to any of the servers in US, UK, Netherlands and Germany, although all P2P and BitTorrent activity remains restricted to Dutch and German networks. It appears there are eight servers available in each region.
I tried out HideIPVPN on a trip, as well as from a local coffeeshop and on our testing network. Performance and the available features are on par with similar offerings, even though some of its advanced features nudge HideIPVPN into the top tier of VPN services.
HideIPVPN sent me a VPN username and password after I registered my email address with the site. The step-by-step instructions for HideIPVPN clearly lay out the process for the newest users. Since HideIPVPN supports the OpenVPN protocol, the installer also adds the TAP-WIN32 adapter, in the same way as VPN Direct and ProXPN installed the adapter—Next: Using HideIPVPN, Performance
Starting the software for the first time opens up a settings window where you enter the login credentials. When you click on the “Login” button, the server populates the “Package” dropdown menu corresponding to whether you have the trial version or a paid plan. I could then choose the protocol to use, and which regional server to use.
There is a more detailed settings tab on this window which gives the user more control over the settings, such as what to do if the connection drops. The VPN kill feature is one of the most useful features, and I’m surprised more VPN services don’t include this. If the connection drops suddenly (which I generally test by unplugging the network cable) then the specified application (I usually include the Web browser) automatically closes, ensuring the user doesn’t accidentally surf the Web or send data unprotected.
There is a flip side, as well, as HideIPVPN allows users to determine which applications to open if the connection is lost. This was new, and, while I can’t think offhand how I would use it, it is good to have both options.
The settings window also has links to email support, a tech support area on the website, the company blog, and the frequently-asked-questions page. I also liked the detailed connection logs telling me when there was a problem connecting to the server and other network information. HideIPVPN said the logs are kept up to three days for trouble-shooting purposes, only and no other information about the user’s online activity is ever stored.
Just before connecting, the user can select which server to connect to, in which country. Most of the US servers appeared to be located on the West Coast.
Speed and Performance
I didn’t notice any discernible lag with HideIPVPN while on the road for a one-week period, although there were times I had to try a few times before I was able to successfully connect to a server. I was able to view Hulu and YouTube videos without any difficulty while connected.
To measure network speed, I ran the speed tests available on SpeedTest.net once I was back at my test bed. The tests are designed to measure download and upload speeds when connecting to servers in different cities. I determined my location by looking up the IP address and then looked for a city closest to that location to run the test. I ran the test twice with the VPN service turned off, and again when turned on, and picked the best measurements. The figures below are over a wired connection, not wireless. I used the OpenVPN connection, since that is the protocol most commonly used by other products.
Performance was fairly average, compared to other products we’ve seen. Compared to the other services, the trial version of HideIPVPN was slightly slower, but I don’t think the difference was that significant. In most cases, once the user switches to a paid version, the performance gap disappears. If you are really concerned about performance, you may be better off with Private Internet Access or Norton Hotspot Privacy.
A few caveats during testing
I found out that ports 25 and 22 are blocked because they were being abused. With port 22 blocked, I couldn’t use SSH at all, but considering that SSH is already a secure connection, it’s not that bad. If the user is having trouble, the first thing to make sure is that 1723 and 443 TCP ports are open. If using the PPTP passthrough, the firewall and router must allow VPN/PPTP pass-through. Netgear and Trend Micro routers may encounter some issues, according to the FAQ. We had some hiccups trying to use the Netgear router in the test lab.
The software is extremely minimalistic and lightweight, so it is easy to forget it is running. Like other competitors such as Private Internet Access, HideIPVPN did not have an actual application window when I launched the program. All I got was a tiny lock icon in the system tray, and when I right-clicked on the icon, I saw a menu listing what servers to connect to and the option to go back into the Settings screen.
HideIPVPN & the Competition
VPN services have transformed dramatically over the past few months. Just a year ago, VPN services were more or less the same—lightweight programs which encrypted your Internet connections and let you switch between several geographic regions. The primary differentiators were performance, number of servers, and whether or not there were ads. Performance is becoming less of a differentiator, and many of the services now have mobile support.
HideIPVPN has most of the basic features I would expect in a low-cost VPN service, such as being able to switch servers, being lightweight, and encrypting all Web data before transmission. It has some advanced capabilities, such as the kill switch and the ability to use the credentials to set up proxy servers. It already has mobile support for Android and iOS, which our current Editors’ Choice, Private Internet Access, is still in the process of rolling out. Norton Hotspot Privacy from Symantec also has some mobile support, but it doesn’t have the kill switch option that HideIPVPN offers. From the review, it appears that HideIPVPN has fewer servers than Norton or Private Internet Access. While HideIPVPN is a strong contender and one I would heartily recommend—as represented by the four stars I gave it—it falls short of the Editors’ Choice rating because it does not match the sheer volume of advanced features or the performance boost Private Internet Access offers.
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|Tech Support||Web based.|
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc