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HideMyAss! VPN review

Protect your privacy online with Avast’s own VPN

(Image: © Avast)

Our Verdict

This VPN service is easy-to-use with a sprawling network of servers and some worthwhile recent improvements, but the session logging policies may be a concern to some.

For

  • Large network of servers
  • Responsive live chat support
  • Unblocks Netflix, BBC iPlayer
  • Effective system and app kill switches

Against

  • Some session logging
  • Limited configurability
  • There are cheaper VPNs around
  • Below average support website

HideMyAss! (HMA) has been a popular independent provider of VPN services since 2005, but is now owned by security giant Avast.

The company offers a vast network of 1000+ servers in 290+ locations across 190+ countries. That's fewer servers than some of the top providers, but many more locations and countries (NordVPN has 5,700+ servers across 60 countries, ExpressVPN has 3,000+ servers across 160 locations and 94 countries).

HideMyAss! provides its own No Log DNS, which not only avoids DNS leaks, but also blocks access to malicious and phishing sites.

The HideMyAss! website proudly proclaims that it works on all your devices, and it just might have a point. Not only are there custom apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, but there's installation advice to help you manually set up the service on many other platforms. And that includes the ability to configure some routers, which in theory should allow you to use the service with all your smart devices, too.

New features include a system-wide kill switch for Windows and Mac (no need to manually specify apps to close, any more.)  The network has grown, website unblocking is more reliable, and the privacy policy has been extended to make it very clear what's logged, and what isn't.

HideMyAss! doesn't have a monthly plan, but you do get three other options: $6.99 per month paid annually, an effective $5.99 on the two-year plan, or $4.99 over three years.

That's an effective price rise since our last review, when you were able to get two years of service for $4.99, and makes HideMyAss! a little more expensive than average. Goose VPN, Ivacy, VPN Unlimited, Private Internet Access, TunnelBear, Windscribe and ZenMate all offer annual plans for $5 or under, and if you're willing to pay for three years up-front, many companies charge under $3.

Bitcoin isn't accepted, whatever plan you choose, but HideMyAss! does support cards, PayPal and Skrill.

A 7-day free trial gives you a decent amount of time to try out the service. You must hand over your payment details, and you're automatically billed for the annual plan when the trial ends, unless you cancel (which is easy to do online).

If you buy, and then run into problems, you're protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee. HideMyAss! has removed the old restrictions (it was only valid (for customers who used less than 10GB of data and made fewer than 100 connections), which is a positive move. Overall, the guarantee is now less restrictive than most competitors, as in theory it allows you to claim a refund every six months. (Many providers will allow only one refund, ever.)

Plans and pricing

HideMyAss! doesn't log your IP address but there is some session logging

(Image credit: Avast)

Privacy and logging

HideMyAss! has so much small print that the Legal section has a sidebar with no less than 10 separate sections, and many of those are also very lengthy (the privacy policy alone has more than 3,500 words). 

This isn't quite as bad as it first sounds. The main reason for the cluster of documents is that HideMyAss! has moved key sections into separate articles, making them easier to find, and most of these are clearly structured and well written.

The Privacy Policy explains that there's no logging of originating IP addresses (a possible way to identify you), DNS queries, or any details on the websites you're visiting or what you're doing online.

There is some session logging, though. The service records the timestamp of every session connect and disconnect, a subnet of the IP address you used to connect to the service (if you connect from 92.145.233.343, 92.145.233.0 is logged), the IP address of the VPN server assigned to you, and the amount of data uploaded and downloaded.

Although this is more logging than you'll see with some providers, the absence of a full IP means there's no way to definitively connect any internet action back to your account. HideMyAss! deletes this data after 30 days, too, further limiting any exposure.

While this sounds positive, potential customers have no way to confirm these logging promises tell the whole story. VPN providers such as TunnelBear, NordVPN and VyprVPN have allowed independent companies to audit their systems for logging, privacy and security, and publish the results. That's the only way to begin to reassure users about what a VPN is really doing, and we hope HideMyAss! and the rest of the industry will soon follow suit.

Windows app

This is the user interface of the Windows client

(Image credit: Avast)

Apps

Signing up for a HideMyAss! trial works much like any other web service you've ever used. Choose a plan, select a payment method – there’s support for card, PayPal, Skrill, UnionPay and Neteller – and hand over your money in the usual way.

A Download page pointed us directly to the correct app for our Windows device, while also giving us links to Mac, Android and iOS builds. This isn't as well-presented as high-end competitors such as ExpressVPN – you don't get the same number of tutorials on setting the service up manually, and there's no link to download the Android APK file for manual installation elsewhere – but it covers the basics well.

The Windows app opened with a very simple interface containing only three tabs and three buttons.

'Instant Mode' gets you connected to your nearest server for secure browsing, 'Location Mode' enables choosing a specific location, and 'Freedom Mode' helps you connect from a restricted country (Iran, China) to a less regulated location to help unblock websites and news.

iOS app

The iOS app has a clean user interface

(Image credit: Avast)

A well-designed Location Picker enables finding and choosing the servers you need. By default, this displayed seven sensibly chosen 'Recommended' servers, but we could also choose to display streaming or P2P-optimized servers, our Favorites, or the full list. There are no ping times or server load figures to highlight the fastest or slowest locations, but otherwise the system does a reasonable job.

You're not prevented from choosing a new location while you're connected to another, unlike some more restrictive apps. If you want to switch from the US to the UK, just choose that location in the list and the client reconnects immediately.

The Preferences dialog doesn't include some very standard features (there's no support for any protocol beyond the default OpenVPN), but there are some pluses.

The client now includes a system-wide as well as the previous app-specific kill switch, for instance, making it easier to protect yourself if the connection drops.

We tested the kill switch by forcibly closing the openvpn.exe process and its TCP connection, and monitoring IP leaks when we switched servers. In all cases the client correctly blocked all leaks, preventing our real IP from reaching the outside world.

Elsewhere, an unusual IP Shuffle feature changes your IP address at a defined interval (30 minutes, an hour, a day, whatever you like), making it even more difficult for others to track what you're doing. You can have the system automatically connect to the VPN when you access an insecure wireless network. And a handy Diagnostics screen displays the OpenVPN connection log, potentially very useful in troubleshooting connection issues.

Android app

The Android app has a very similar user interface to its iOS and Windows counterparts

(Image credit: Avast)

The Android app has a near identical interface to its Windows cousin, with the same design, the same simple connection modes, and (mostly) the ability to connect with a couple of taps. The Location Picker doesn't list P2P servers, but that's not exactly a big deal for a mobile app, and overall it does a reasonable job.

The app's Preferences dialog is more basic than the desktop edition, with for example no built-in kill switch. You still get the ability to shuffle your IP address at regular intervals, though, along with the option to automatically protect you when accessing untrusted networks. The app also adds a handy feature of its own, split tunneling, which enables routing only your choice of apps through the VPN (video streaming, but not your browser, say).

TestMy.net

We used Ookla's SpeedTest and TestMy to measure the performance of HideMyAss!

(Image credit: TestMy.net)

Performance

We began our HideMyAss! performance checks by choosing a small group of test servers: three in the US, three in the UK, two in Europe, and locations in Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea to represent the rest of the world.

(This required downloading OpenVPN configuration files, so we were happy to find that HideMyAss! provides a wide selection, sensibly named and right up to date-- our files had been created only 18 days before the review.)

Our tests began by connecting to each server in turn, recording the connection time, running a ping check to look for latency issues, and using geolocation to verify that the server was in the location advertised.

There was positive news in every area. All servers appeared to be where HideMyAss! claimed they would be. Connection times were reasonable at around four to five seconds, even for the most distant locations (some VPNs are twice that), and ping times lengthened for far-away servers, but no more than we expected, and they didn't reveal any problems.

We moved on to checking the best-case download speeds, connecting to our nearest server from both US and UK locations, and measuring download performance using Ookla's SpeedTest and TestMy.

UK speeds were a capable 64-66Mbps on our test 75Mbps connection, only 4% down on our performance with the VPN turned off.

We made our US checks from a super-fast 475Mbps connection, allowing us to see what level of performance the HideMyAss! servers can sustain. One test saw speeds plummet to around 60Mbps, an 85% drop, but the others were a far more capable 140-200Mbps. We've seen better - ExpressVPN managed more than 400Mbps - but it'll be more than enough for most purposes. (And unless your internet connection is significantly faster than 200Mbps, of course, you won't even notice there's an issue.)

Checking distant locations doesn't tell you quite as much about the VPN as there are more factors involved, but again, HideMyAss! performed well. European speeds were barely changed from the UK, for instance, and connections to the US averaged 55-60Mbps.

Going long-distance saw HideMyAss! speeds finally begin to drop, but even then, they were generally very usable (Hong Kong was a surprisingly consistent 32-36Mbps, for example, while Australia managed 15-20Mbps.) Even South Korea - a tired-out 1Mbps in our last review - exceeded expectations at a creditable 12Mpbs, this time round.

Netflix

HideMyAss! was able to unblock US Netflix in our tests

(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix

Point your browser at the HideMyAss! website and you'll read that the service allows you to "stream your favorite TV shows from wherever you are in the world using one of our dedicated streaming servers." Sounds good, but is it true?

The HideMyAss! Windows client enables filtering its location list to display only streaming servers, and right now there are just five of these: two in New York, one in Florida, one in London and another in Frankfurt (a new addition since our last review.) That's not exactly a lot of choice, and we wondered whether that would make it easier for streaming websites to detect and block them.

We needn't have worried, though. HideMyAss! UK server got us instant access to BBC iPlayer, and the US servers allowed us to view US-only YouTube clips, and got us into the much more heavily defended Netflix. Finally, the German server completed the story, bypassing Netflix protection and allow us to browse whatever content we liked.

Support

HideMyAss! provides support via 24/7 live chat, a web forum, FAQs and a searchable knowledgebase

(Image credit: Avast)

Support

The HideMyAss! support site offers a wide range of resources, including setup guides, a searchable knowledgebase, FAQs, a web forum, and 24/7 live chat for anything urgent.

The web content isn't as in-depth or well-presented as some of the competition. ExpressVPN has a host of detailed setup guides, all easily accessible in a couple of clicks from the support page. HideMyAss! doesn't organize its articles quite as neatly, and when you do find them, there's less information, and occasionally some questionable points.

(For example, the Windows setup tutorial starts by talking about downloading the latest version of the .NET Framework, for instance, before saying there's nothing out of the ordinary about warnings that the TAP driver isn't signed, and suggesting you fix this by disabling driver signing checks. This isn't necessarily bad advice if you know what you're doing, but it's also seriously advanced stuff with implications for your security, and we wouldn't expect it to appear in a general installation tutorial for all levels of user.)

The HideMyAss! web forum isn't a busy place, but post a question there and it's normally answered by a staff member within a few hours. Replies are generally helpful, and if the problem isn’t solved on the forum, the support team will often create a ticket for you or send you a direct email to discuss the issue further.

If you can't wait, live chat is on hand for near instant assistance. We posed a Windows installation issue, and within minutes, a support agent began giving us a helpful and accurate solution. That works for us, and overall, we think HideMyAss! should be able to help you solve most common VPN issues.

Final verdict

This service's data collection policies could be a problem for the privacy conscious. That said, speeds are good, it unblocked everything we tried, and you do get one of the largest VPN networks around. If these are your priorities, HideMyAss! might be worth a try.

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