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Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN Review

Editor's Overall Rating: 
16 User Reviews
Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN Review
Editor's Rating
Order to Installation
Software/GUI
Ease of Use
Features
Network & Speed
Help & Support
Scope of Protection
Overall Rating


Site: www.hotspotshield.com
Related Sites:
Site languages: En/Ar/Zh/Ru/Fr/Fa/Vi/

AnchorFree VPN Hotspot Shield INTRODUCTION
Anchor Free provides a free encrypted service for users that want to protect themselves, mainly at hotspots, but also generally on the internet. I was unable to easily locate any information on Anchor Free’s website about its encryption standard or protocol. There is a max bandwidth usage of 5GB per month.
In my testing of the web-based product, I quickly became concerned that Anchor Free was directing advertising to my web browser to pay for the service. Could Anchor Free be directing major advertisers to my browser and giving them access to my personal information?
To answer that question, I reviewed Anchor Free’s Privacy Policy, which states as follows (http://www.anchorfree.com/privacy.html):

“AnchorFree allows other companies, called third-party ad servers or ad networks, to serve advertisements within the Hotspot Shield. These third-party ad servers or ad networks use technology to send, directly to your browser, the advertisements and links that appear on the Hotspot Shield. They automatically receive the virtual IP Address assigned by AnchorFree when this happens. They may also use other technologies (such as cookies, javascript, or web beacons) to measure the effectiveness of their advertisements and to personalize their advertising content.

AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield Privacy Notice does not apply to, and we cannot control the activities of, such other advertisers or other web sites visited by Users. . . . .”

So, according to Anchor Free’s own Privacy Policy, it may send advertisements directly to your browser and enable other companies to “personalize their advertising content.”
Isn’t there a contradiction here somehow? AnchorFree is attracting millions of users to the free service which is supposed to provide privacy and security, while at the same time, Anchor Free states that it may advertise to those same users.
In addition, in testing Anchor Free, I discovered IP addresses belonging to Anchor Free are blacklisted for spamming. (Please see Server Network below) In my opinion, using a VPN that is blacklisted for spamming could create lots of headaches for you, and you might very well find yourself blacklisted as a spammer, too.
Unfortunately, spamming continues to pose a problem on the Internet, and hundreds of proxy sites on the Web provide blacklisted IP addresses for websites to hide behind. Could that be happening here in the case of Anchor Free as well?
Another concern: I discovered several complaints posted by users in the Hotspot Shield Support Forum (http://www.anchorfree.com/support/hotspot-shield.html), who stated that they cannot connect to the Hotspot Shield any longer. That raised a red flag to me as well.
I have been looking at videos and promotions of Anchor Free and am surprised that security pundits appear to endorse this product. In my opinion, this product does not demonstrate an acceptable commitment to security and advertising is its true business. Moreover, it is my opinion that this product is as popular as it is because customers are just not educated about the true nature of the product. Is this really better hot spot security, when at the same time you relying on Anchor Free to secure your hot spot activities, your use of Anchor Free is directing personalized advertising to your browser?
While this may be good marketing for Anchor Free, it is my opinion that using Anchor Free inadvertently provides a terrible security nightmare for unsuspecting consumers.
This review brings to mind the saying “you get what you pay for.” My advice is to stay clear of this product.

Review Summary

In my opinion, Anchor Free is an advertising machine using the lure of VPN and security to give away your personal information. It is my further opinion that is has no application, no features, inadequately protected servers, and a Privacy Policy you could drive a truck through. Also, as of this writing and for the last month, I found postings by users, who have been complaining in the Hotspot Shield Support Forum that they cannot connect to the Hotspot Shield any longer.

Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN PROS:
• Easy to use web based application
• Free with advertising

Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN CONS:
• In my opinion, inadequate Privacy or Security
• Max of 5GB per month (http://www.anchorfree.com/support/hotspot-shield.html)
• No published information that I could find on encryption
• In my opinion, your personal IP is at risk once you disconnect from Anchor Free
• Dynamic IP with no Fixed IPs for using with PayPal & Credit Card merchants
• Does not support IPv6 but Anchor Free claims they intend to support it
• In my opinion, little support
• In my opinion, intrusive constant advertising in the form of popups, videos, landing pages.

Full Review

From Order to Installation: ★★★½☆ 

With Anchor Free your account is up and running immediately. Anchor Free utilizes its own electronic download for the executable application. It runs quickly and there were no problems during the execution:

anchor-free-vpn-review

Now comes the start of advertising as it’s a free service:

anchor-free-vpn-review

anchor-free-vpn-review

Anchor Free provides you with a convenient icon on your desktop. When you click on the Anchor Free icon it opens a browser application. Unlike other VPN services, there is no desktop application.

anchor-free-vpn-review

Software/GUI: ★★★☆☆ 

After download and execution of the Anchor Free program, click on the Hotspot Shield icon on your desktop and a browser page opens:

anchor-free-vpn-review

Click on Connect and get connected:

anchor-free-vpn-review

After you connect you get shifted to an advertising page:

anchor-free-vpn-review

Anchor Free pushes ads to you in the form of web pages, YouTube videos that can be paused but not turned off and after a few minutes they turn on again as well as relentless popups. It’s like a porn site without the porn but all the ads.

Anchor Free pushes ads to your browser in the form of web pages, YouTube videos that can be paused but not turned off and after a few minutes they turn on again as well as relentless popups. In my opinion, it’s like a porn site without the porn but all the ads.

Uninstalling: I did not like the Anchor Free Model, and had a bad feeling throughout my testing of the product. A few minutes after testing it, I started having problems with the script at certain sites, particularly at sign up for a purchase. After finishing testing Anchor Free I was happy to uninstall it and sure enough all the problems went away. I can’t be sure that this is Anchor Free’s fault, but I suspected that the problems could be connected to the product.

Updates: Anchor Free provides automated updates to their installation software.

Ease of Use: ★★★★½ 

Very easy to use but you have no control over servers or features.

Features: ½☆☆☆☆ 

In my opinion, Anchor Free has no features as it’s not a desktop application but a browser page.

Server Network, Availability & Speed ★½☆☆☆ 

On the multiple tests we have run, we have only been able to locate Anchor Free servers in the USA and Canada. Anchor Free claims they have servers in other locations as well. Anchor Free states that: “We cannot, however, ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, and you do so at your own risk”.
Anchor Free states: “Once we receive your transmission of information, AnchorFree makes commercially reasonable efforts to ensure the security of our systems. However, please note that this is not a guarantee that such information may not be accessed, disclosed, altered, or destroyed by breach of any of our physical, technical, or managerial safeguards” (http://www.anchorfree.com/privacy.html). In legal speak, commercially reasonable efforts is far less than best efforts. If there servers were hard protected from hackers, would AnchorFree not clearly state it?
Sometimes and for extended periods, I found that the service is down:

How do we test?
After we install Anchor Free and run it we determine the server that is being used by Anchor Free’s service by the Internet Protocol (IP address) with any popular IP checker. How can we know it’s an Anchor Free server? First, it’s the IP address that is initiated by its own service and second, you can further confirm it’s an Anchor Free web page because of the advertising in the top left corner or at the top of the page of the browser you are on. Anchor Free specifically configures your browser page so that advertising arrives in the upper left corner or top of the page and this advertising content is specific and unique to Anchor Free (a square consisting of 4 advertising brand icons).

The Anchor Free IP address of one of its servers and its hosting provider for this server (as described above, this page has the unique advertising at the top right of the page and the IP check results from Anchor Free’s service:

anchor-free-vpn-review

As you connect, the web browser application randomly chooses a different server of which the above IP is one example. I tried several servers in the Midwest and California.

Example server Ping time: Anchor Free Chicago, USA server to Rotterdam, Netherlands requires 11 hops and 152 ms ping time. In my opinion, 11 hops is ridiculous. Normally you would expect 3-4 hops perhaps as many as 6 hops but 11 hops means that you will have problems with VOIP and You Tube, downloading in general and occasionally the dropping of your line.

anchor-free-vpn-review

Without Anchor Free the ping time was 128ms with 3 hops, so there was substantial latency (15%) on this server test at 3.48PM EST. This is due to the number of hops.

SPAMMING Blacklisted

And probably the worst problem that I found in my testing of Anchor Free servers was that some IP addresses were blacklisted for spamming. The same IP address that was tested above for its speed is also recorded in Google by SPAM cops for Spamming. How does this work? When a spammer uses a particular server, the SPAM emitted from the IP address of the server is time stamped. Organizations that record SPAM and report it for blacklisting publish the results. This data is recorded by Google during its crawl of web pages and can be seen below. For this IP there are 3 organizations that have recorded the SPAM abuse event:

anchor-free-vpn-review

These IPs can be searched in Google by anyone and the data found there simply by searching for the IP number: 69.22.184.8

Using the same testing procedure as explained above, the Anchor Free IP address of another one of its servers and its hosting provider (each server is hosted on a third party network – in this case Hurricane Electric, a Peer 1 network) is pictured below with IP address 66.68.107.40. The advertising at the top of the browser page is that of Anchor Free:

This server and IP address has SPAM reports associated with it and recorded in Google search:

When somebody spams, spam cops appear to provide data on the spammer as well as all subsequent users of the server IP that initiated the SPAM. As previously stated, my concern with using a VPN with blacklisted IP addresses is that you might be labeled a spammer as well and could potentially be blacklisted from many sites and worse.

This Anchor Free server appears to be used for other unsavory activities. This server has been used for romance scams and job and work from home scams. If you want to read more about how this server has been used for these scams, please go to: http://www.romancescam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=79&t=3418&p=170385

Or just search in Google for 69.22.186.142 :

In another case, using the same test methodology, we found a Canadian Anchor Free server that was being misused by the HideMyIPAddress proxy service. HideMyIPAddress is using the Anchor Free service for its own service and actually charging for the use. There have been other incidents of Hide My IP Address high jacking third party servers (see the Review). In this case a proxy trace using a popular IP tracer shows that the server is actually an Anchor Free server:

And a search in Google reveals that this is an Anchor Free IP. Please see below:

A google search for this IP also records this IP as a “Spambot infested open proxy 216.218.211.57” and by The Project Honey Pot system as “…behavior from the IP adress 216.218.211.57 that is consistent with that of a Bad Web Host…18 appearance(s) in spam e-mail or spam post urls”. Please see:

And a further report by Spam-IP.com:

And Spam-IP.com writes (http://spam-ip.com/lookup-148512-216.218.211.57.html):

Presale Support to Product Help & Support ★★½☆☆ 

In my opinion, there is no support to speak of and this is a take or leave it product. I would argue that the AnchorFree website is only about promoting the product there are no in-depth FAQs (what is available is spare), information about the strength or protocol of VPN, support, features, etc. Furthermore, I found that the AnchorFree support was completely inadequate. When I wrote them, AnchorFree sent me back an email saying that they would get back to you within a FEW business days. In fact, I never received a response. Although I did get an automated response:

PLEASE NOTE THAT DUE TO INTERNET CABLE ISSUES IN UAE, SOME USERS MIGHT EXPERIENCE PROBLEMS CONNECTING. UPDATING TO THE LATEST VERSION OF HOTSPOT SHIELD 1.41 MIGHT SOLVE THE PROBLEM BUT IS NOT GUARANTEED. THE REPAIRS SHOULD BE DONE BY APRIL 27TH, 2010.

Although I wrote to Anchor Free in July 2010, they write back about a problem that they were to repair by April 2010. Strange.

Scope of Protection:

Protocols: ★★★★☆ 

It is difficult to determine the scope of protection considering that Anchor Free provides on its website little information about the VPN they use and protocol. But they do write: “Hotspot Shield encrypts every page visited by our Users, thus creating a virtual private network tunnel between each User and the Internet. This enables every page visited to go through HTTP(S) encryption.” (http://www.anchorfree.com/privacy.html) But this is not a VPN protocol, just SSL.

The Anchor Free installer installs Tun/Tap which does suggest that they are using some form of OpenVPN, but I’m unsure of the level of encryption that’s being used and Anchor Free does not provide that information. Anchor Free do write: “Hotspot Shield creates a virtual private network (VPN) between your laptop or iPhone and our Internet gateway.”

It is my opinion that if it were really strong encryption they probably would not provide the following warning: “We cannot, however, ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, and you do so at your own risk” and further: “Once we receive your transmission of information, AnchorFree makes commercially reasonable efforts to ensure the security of our systems. However, please note that this is not a guarantee that such information may not be accessed, disclosed, altered, or destroyed by breach of any of our physical, technical, or managerial safeguards.” (http://www.anchorfree.com/privacy.html)

Protocols: Unknown
Anchor Free does not specify protocols or features. “User Products”: http://www.anchorfree.com/downloads/hotspot-shield/

Encryption: Pending Test

Encryption Strength Specified: Unknown

The effectiveness of any VPN provider is dependent on how effective is the encryption. Our independent encryption Test of Anchor Free is to be completed and will be posted here then.

Privacy:½☆☆☆☆ 

Anchor Free states in its Privacy Policy that: “AnchorFree Hotspot Shield is committed to keeping all User identity private from third parties and from AnchorFree. We do not collect any personally identifiable information on Hotspot Shield”. (http://www.anchorfree.com/privacy.html) On the other hand they state that they may use cookies on your computer.

What I found troubling is this statement: “Anchor Free’s Hotspot Shield Privacy Notice does not apply to, and we cannot control the activities of, such other advertisers or other web sites visited by Users.” So, my interpretation of this statement is as follows: Anchor Free is indicating to us that while it may not collect a lot of personal data from your browser, it may permit third party advertisers to do so. Moreover, I would read between the lines and argue that advertisers can glean any information from you to improve their ads on Anchor Free’s Hotspot Shield. When you log off from Anchor Free, won’t those advertisers see your real IP and track you thereafter, so that all your information is now on thousands of unsecure servers owned by advertisers and their agents? If so, some security and privacy!

And we are not the only ones pointing this out. John Palfrey, Professor of Law and Vice Dean of Harvard Law school and an authority on the topic of cyberspace (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey/top/bio/) shares this opinion:

“But AnchorFree is, at its core, an advertising company which tracks the web browsing habits of its users.62 What AnchorFree’s description does not say is that AnchorFree makes money from the otherwise “free” tool by displaying ads to users within web pages. By using HotSpot Shield, users give AnchorFree complete access to all data exchanged while web browsing with the tool. AnchorFree provides an option to its users to remove the inserted banner ads and implies (but never explicitly says) that it does not monitor its users’ traffic, but it nonetheless still has the ability to snoop on the data at any time.”
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:2554026
Citation: Palfrey, John. 2008. The public and the private at the United States Border with Cyberspace. Mississippi Law Journal 78: 241-294.

If you have any concerns about privacy whatsoever, this service may not be for you even if it’s for free. In my opinion, your privacy is being sacrificed for advertising to all the major advertising players, and Anchor Free provides you with the same level of privacy as your ISP. What good does it do to prevent hackers from picking up data at hotspots if insiders at an advertising agency or advertisers themselves lose that very same data to hackers hacking their servers or Anchor Free’s servers?
In fact, I would argue that using this service is putting you at greater risk than browsing in the clear on the internet without its protection.

AnchorFree VPN Hotspot Shield Review SUMMARY

In my opinion, Anchor Free is an advertising machine using the lure of VPN and security to give away your personal information. It is my further opinion that is has no application, no features, inadequately protected servers, and a Privacy Policy you could drive a truck through. Also, as of this writing and for the last month, I found postings by users, who have been complaining in the Hotspot Shield Support Forum that they cannot connect to the Hotspot Shield any longer.

Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN PROS:
• Easy to use web based application
• Free with advertising

Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN CONS:
• In my opinion, inadequate Privacy or Security
• Max of 5GB per month (http://www.anchorfree.com/support/hotspot-shield.html)
• No published information that I could find on encryption
• In my opinion, your personal IP is at risk once you disconnect from Anchor Free
• Dynamic IP with no Fixed IPs for using with PayPal & Credit Card merchants
• Does not support IPv6 but Anchor Free claims they intend to support it
• In my opinion, little support
• In my opinion, intrusive constant advertising in the form of popups, videos, landing pages.

Editor’s Rating
Order to Installation
Software/GUI
Ease of Use
Features
Network & Speed
Help & Support
Scope of Protection
Overall Rating

Feel Free to write your own review of Hotspot Shield by AnchorFree VPN!

16 User Reviews »

  • dan71 says:

    Lot of bugs. sometimes impossible to manage. so bad vpn

    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • sandoz says:

    This Hotspot shield is bull shit.
    Once installed, I NEVER been able to load my own pages or favorites:
    every time a page for a search was displayed.
    Every time I forced one of my urls in the url location it was immediately replaced with a conduit or anchor free search.INCREDIBLE!

    Also when I unstalled it, I could not get rid of their icon.
    Damned software !

    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • Nico says:

    HI I BECAME VERY WORRIED ABOUT HOTSPOT SHIELD WHEN I READ THEIR WEBSITE TERMS WHICH REVEALS THEY CAN INJECT OR OVERLAY ADS INTO MY BROWSED WEB PAGES…WOW, CAN’T THAT POSSIBLY OPEN A DOOR TO VIRUS!!! WHO KNOWS WHAT THE AD HTML HIDES???

    FOR THIS REASON, I WENT WITH OPENVPN PRIVATE TUNNEL, THEY HAVE NO ANNOYING ADS!!!

    Ease of Use Not Rated
    Features
    Network & Speed Not Rated
    Help & Support Not Rated
    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • Mark Sangan says:

    Recently made the mistake of buying Hotspot Shield Elite it`s supposed to work in the US, UK, and Australia. My problem was that it failed on some Australian sites, so asked for a refund, and now the company has gone into denial mode. Have complained to Paypal. This company needs to be investigated.MS

    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • David Johnson says:

    I hate that I installed this mess on my computer. The banner won
    t leave from the top of my screen when I “X” it out, and it won’t even uninstall from my programs. This is a big inconvienence to me, and I WANT IT OFF MY SYSTEM!!!!

    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • Luk says:

    I payed for 1 year subscription. From this time the service is not working 90% of time. They are not responding to any emails. There is no technical support. If You want to loose Your money this is the best way. I’ve also noticed sth strange. Anchor was showing that service is working , but while I was on booking.com site discovered my real IP showing me offers from the city I was in. Very bad service, and what is worst they do not respond to any emails.

    Ease of Use
    Features
    Network & Speed
    Help & Support Not Rated
    Used this VPN for (how long): less than 1 year

  • Roger says:

    I recently downloaded their free trial to give it a run before making the leap to their paid service and boy am I glad I did. While in their virtual network I logged onto my Safe-Mail email account to check my mail and then logged off. Later I rechecked my mail and decided to take a look at my log in page. Low and behold my actual IP was showing up not the IP I was using through their servers. How could this be? If I’m connected to their servers (which I verified by Googling what’s my IP) why was my actual IP being recorded as the log-in IP on my email account? In fact I created that email while hidden in their system and yet my actual IP is the only IP on record…Problem with their system and I’m def not recommending this VPN to anyone. Servers were fast and it’s easy to use but there’s an issue here

    Ease of Use
    Features
    Network & Speed
    Help & Support
    Used this VPN for (how long): less than 1 month

  • كحيلان says:

    قبيلة شمر العريقة

    Ease of Use
    Features
    Network & Speed
    Help & Support
    Used this VPN for (how long): less than 1 week

  • danial says:

    love

    Ease of Use
    Features
    Network & Speed
    Help & Support
    Used this VPN for (how long): more than 1 year

  • amous says:

    that is anice for proxy

    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • johnhonaye says:

    i like this web link

    Used this VPN for (how long): (didn’t use)

  • wendy says:

    wendy…

    excellent info, keep it coming…

  • CJ says:

    I had a weird problem today with AnchorFree. First of all, I rarely use it, but I try to on occasion, to test it, because i suggest certain friends to use it, people who live in Communist countries, etc., who have been threatened, followed by police, monks, etc.

    So, suddenly, the anchor free was posting ads on my regular browsers! Including Camino and Omniweb! This is strange, and I have no idea, but I recognize the ads and their setting, top left of the page, and I never get ads like this on those sites, but I do when using AnchorFree. Now, I noted that my ports are closed and cannot use Transmission, so I tried to delete AnchorFree, but guess what? It is gone!! It no longer resides in my bar, and I cannot find the application which created it! It like has taken control of my web browsers, ports, and is now creating havoc! What gives?

    Do we actually KNOW that this is a valid product, or is this just like a Chinese spam product????

    Ease of Use
    Features
    Network & Speed
    Help & Support
    Used this VPN for (how long): less than 1 year

  • qiel.com says:

    anchor free vpn review…

    Anchor Free is an advertising machine using the lure of VPN and security to give away all of your personal information. It has no application, no features, unprotected servers located in the USA, all of its IPs are blacklisted for spamming and a Privac…

  • James Finnie says:

    About your logging policy and being in the USA,

    Read the New York Times article dated 9.27.10:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/us/27wiretap.html?_r=1

    “U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet”
    Your US company will receive a court order and your defense will be that they don’t have access to company logs or that you don’t log. The US officers of your company will be in breach of a court order and liable to penalties and jail time. You are misleading your customers if you want them to believe that you wont cave in.

    To quote the article:
    “No one should be promising their customers that they will thumb their nose at a U.S. court order,” Ms. Caproni said. “They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.”

    Ease of Use
    Features
    Network & Speed
    Help & Support
    Used this VPN for (how long): less than 1 month

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