Hide My Ass! VPN Service Review

Our readers have weighed in with their own assessments of popular VPN Service HMA!, to which we’ve added our own hands-on test results.

Introduction

We asked readers who were VPN service customers to rate the services they have used. Those responses yielded a handful of top-notch providers, HMA! among them. HMA! received the second-highest number of reader responses at 45, but it finished in fourth place with an average rating of 4.07. That's a bit harsh, given the quality of that score but at some point we have to line 'em all up in order. You can read the verbatim reader comments and accompanying ratings at the bottom of this page.

Readers generally gave HMA! high marks for ease of use, customer service and -- a response we saw quite often -- the number of server locations. On the negative side, speed was the most often-cited knocks on HMA!. While some readers thought HMA! was easy, a small handful didn't; while some marked it down for its lack of speed, others thought the speed was more than adequate. There were a few comments about the cost of the service as well -- generally unfavorable comments. Below (at the bottom of the page) we've provided a smattering of representative responses, accompanied by reader ratings; we've tried to provide the responses that offer the greatest variety of experience, and also things that might be helpful before plunging ahead with HMA!.

Features And Specifications

Supported Encryption

OpenVPN
CBC mode of Blowfish (128bit); hash algorithm: 160bit SHA1; control channel: TLSv1/SSLv3 DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA, 1024 bit RSA.
PPTP
MPPE (Microsoft Point-to-Point-Encryption) 128bit cipher with compression and MS-CHAPv2 authentication.
L2TP
Tunneled with IPSec, supports multiple encryption protocols negotiated upon connection: TWOFISH_CBC, SERPENT_CBC, AES_CBC, BLOWFISH_CBC

Interface And Setup

While HMA! offers instructions on its software download page for running manual VPN setups, you’ll likely want to grab one or more of its various clients, available in Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android versions. The Windows version we evaluated proved remarkably intuitive and easy to navigate, plus HMA! throws in some eye candy with a handy global map of available VPN servers. And what a list -- 620 VPN servers across 75 countries as of this writing, comprising over 77,000 available IP addresses. A little over half of these are located in the U.S.

During our performance testing, we at first relied on the application's Speed Guide tab. This uses your native IP location to list the geographically closest HMA! servers to you. We strongly recommend using this tool. When we first began using HMA!, we thought the choice of best-performing server would be obvious: the closest one, which, in our case, was Portland (LOC1). The software’s Express Test revealed — and further testing proved — that this was far from the best option. Portland LOC1 traffic was barely able to drag itself the 19km back to our location. Seattle proved several times faster, and Vancouver, British Columbia, was faster yet. The Speed Guide polls all HMA! VPN servers, so don’t be shy about testing any of them regardless of proximity.

Also, if you happen to pick on a server loaded at over 30 percent more than other servers in that city, you’ll receive a load balancing warning asking if you’d like to connect to the least loaded server instead. Nice.

Other pleasant perks in the HMA! Pro VPN app include the ability to randomly change IP address according to a timed interval you choose as well as “Secure IP Bind,” which forces applications to only work when under the protection of HMA!’s encryption. This way, if there’s an unexpected disconnect from a VPN server, applications won’t be trying to reconnect while using an unencrypted feed. You also have the ability to bind only individual applications, such as a browser or torrent client.

In an effort to keep things simple, HMA!’s drop-downs only offer two security protocols: OpenVPN and PPTP.  If you’re not picky, keeping the other cipher concerns hidden and handled should be no problem.

Test Results

Discussing specific performance of this or that VPN service is tricky, because results are dependent on the server chosen and general Internet conditions at the time. We tested over a Frontier FiOS connection, which guarantees and reliably delivers 15 Mb/s down and 5 Mb/s up to our home office. Obviously, there are faster services available, including from Frontier, but this suffices for a comparison.

When we ran with no VPN enabled and let Speedtest.net select the best nearby test target, we fetched an 18ms ping, 15.40 Mb/s download and 5.57 Mb/s upload. This is right against the ceiling that Frontier clamps over our account.

Sources
Targets
Seattle, WA (6 Locations | West Coast)
Portland, OR (West Coast)
London, UKHood River, OR (West Coast)
Ad Darah, Syria (Middle East)Seattle, WA (West Coast)
London, UK
Tripoli, Libya (Middle East)
Amman, Jordan (Middle East)
Miami, FL

To illustrate what a difference a slow VPN server will make, we connected to the ill-advised Portland LOC1 and tested a server in nearby Hood River, Oregon, roughly 80 miles away.

This yielded a ping of 33ms, a downlink of 8.48 Mb/s, and a 0.15 Mb/s uplink.

From there, we had HMA! VPN into the Seattle, WA LOC1 and retest the same Hood River server.

Our ping climbed to 41ms, but downloading jumped to 13.25 Mb/s and uploading to 3.67 Mb/s. Clearly, that’s not too shabby. Yes, you take a little performance hit, but for most applications, including streaming content, the results will be acceptable if you mind your server numbers before connecting.

What if you want to VPN from overseas? We experimented with this in ways, but a couple of examples will suffice. We connected to the London LOC2 VPN server and the Ad Darah, Syria server. In both cases, we had Speedtest.net select its best, closest target and then our Hood River, OR server using OpenVPN protocol. All of this together yielded the following:

As you can see from the charts above, when you keep your VPN server and the remote server you're accessing close to home, the impact is fairly light. Once we hop across the pond, though, throughput tumbles. Of course, there will be plenty of times when losing most of your bandwidth in exchange for privacy and protection is a fair trade. Just set your expectations accordingly.

HMA! is one of the costlier services available, but its user-friendly interface, very accessible and thorough support, and global server distribution make this one of our favorite VPN options.

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Five-Star Reader Ratings

Rating:

✓ Pros:
Ease of use, connection stability and speed.

Cons: Can't directly connect to the VPN using the iPhone app.

Comments: Does what I need it to, quickly and easily.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
World-wide server coverage, great speed, awesome customer support!

Cons: I didn't have negative experience. Even when I had issue connecting to my router their support was patient and knowledgeable and helped me solve the issue...amazing helpers!

Comments: I have been their customer for two years and I always had promised quality of the service!
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Customer support is great. Multi Language interface. Updates are frequent. Just as fast as all competitors, tried a few.

Cons: Why cant VPN's be faster, HMA are among the fastest but still I want netflix faster

Comments: Simple, easy to use software with the most servers worldwide
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Many things but "Virtual server location" is my favorite feature. For example there are Virtual US servers in Europe and you do not need to connect directly to US which is far far away across the Atlantic.

Cons: No VPN server speed checker in mobile/tablet apps, only on Win/Mac.

Comments: Lots of servers to choose from, fast and high quality support.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Servers worldwide to choose from, speed, reliable and excellent support.

Cons: Need more pro features on mobile clients.

Comments: I found their service excellent.

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Four-Star Reader Ratings

Rating:

✓ Pros:
It's easy to use.

Cons: Some latency/speed issues depending on which server/location you choose to use.

Comments: Lots of servers and easy to use client application to use VPN service.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Multiple Platforms and Quite a lot of servers.

Cons: Could be faster and avoid dropping.

Comments: It good, but connection can be a bit slow at times when congested, can be use in several devices and routers.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
There are many servers and countries to choose from.

Cons: I understand they have a history of giving up information to the MPAA.

Comments: One star off because I understand that they have a history of giving up information to the MPAA.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
The many locations, the good interface.

Cons: The speed could be better.

Comments: Software works good, many locations around the world, speed could be better.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
If you use it's default app, it's slow as the other VPN's. But if you use a 3rd party app like OpenVPN GUI, you can watch youtube videos in full HD.

Cons: Sometimes, the default app will connect you to a location that isn't working. Then I have to manually jump to a new location. It's more of an annoyance.

Comments: It does the job, and the price is right. I like the ability to use their app to switch IP addresses and locations on-the-fly.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
-Setup: About as simple as it gets, as far as VPNs go. It just works out of the box. -Settings: If you want simple, you've got it. But, you can tweak settings to specify server locations, add proxies, or log data yourself. You can specify the encryption p

Cons: -Price: While I lived and worked among many expats in China, I heard varying reviews of other VPN services (and tried a few, with varying success), almost all of which were significantly cheaper than HMA; But I suppose it's a matter of you get what you pa

Comments: It's not perfect, but I've yet to find anything easier to use, and more versatile for a Windows machine.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Good software. The software supports multiple protocols and has many advanced features such as Secure IP Bind. Excellent customer service. 24-hour livechat available with knowledgeable and courteous reps plus self-help articles for the technically inclined.  Honest privacy policy. If you look at internet archives, many VPN providers have removed references to compliance with court orders from their privacy policies because they know being upfront about this loses them business. The fact is all VPN providers MUST comply with their country's laws or be forced to shut down, just like Lavabit and Silent Circle in 2014. Some claim that they are free from inspection because they're based in the US - LB/SC prove this is a lie. Anyone who pretends they don't comply with court orders is selling their service on a false promise. Personally when my privacy is involved I would like to be able to trust my security providers.

Cons: The 2 connection limit is a bit annoying. Sometimes I get legal notices through when changing IPs quickly, but then I talk to their support team and no further action is taken.  Sometimes I don't get very high speeds consistently but they've never been as bad as the free/cheapskate services like PIA.  Could be cheaper, but the overall level of support, server locations and software makes it just about worth it.

Comments: HMA just needs to work on their server consistency and performance, and reduce their price a little, and they'd be hitting a 5.  They treat VPN as a long-term service and not a fast-buck. Others I have tried have had incompetent or non-existent support, or sudden drops in speed after exiting the trial period.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Software is easy to use, get up and running in a matter of minutes once your payment goes through.

Cons: Not sure if they keep logs or not, unsettled that they folded in front of authorities recently.

Comments: Reliable, with tons of server locations to choose from.

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Three-Star Reader Ratings

Rating:

✓ Pros:
Many servers from various regions to connect to.

Cons: It was a bit slow on occasion to the point that streaming audio or video would run in to buffering points.

Comments: Connectivity was good but speeds were slow at times.

Two-Star Reader Ratings

Rating:

✓ Pros:
It has many servers throughout the world most nations have an HMA VPN server.

Cons: The VPNs are connected via a single generalised server, eg au.hma.rocks rather than the vast range of IP addresses HMA once used; the effect of this is to make geoblocking by video streamers such as netflix, or the chinese govt, much easier.

Comments: This service do longer supports the use of prepaid debit cards, making anonymous subscription impossible. The US location also means that activities are logged and that data must be made available on demand by the US govt. HMA cannot provide sufficient anonymity for me.

One-Star Reader Ratings

Rating:

✓ Pros:
Easy to use, free version.

Cons: Same as the rating, poor performance.

Comments: Only tried the free version, but it is very slow and often doesn't work at all.
Rating:

✓ Pros:
Fast.

Cons: Complicated to configure and work on my computer at first, customer service below average to me.

Comments: Difficult to use.

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William Van Winkle is a Senior Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • Handoncloud
    Good job! :D
  • Cujothemadog
    they'll turn u in in two minutes flat
  • carnetarian
    I stopped reading as soon as I saw p2p services are disabled. I will never use a VPN that tries to tell me how I'm allowed to use the internet.
  • Rookie_MIB
    Currently a member of HMA, and a while back their speeds were a bit flaky, they've improved that quite a bit to the point where I can max out my connection. Only other I have issues is that they -do- log and will forward copyright accusations.

    However, judicious use of -where- you connect to avoids most of those problems (ie: don't connect to an US server if you're going to torrent US films, in fact, avoid US servers in general...)

    As for their turning in of the hackers who were using their service, while they might shrug at copyright accusations (relatively victimless crime), remember what these guys did in the Sony hack, that was a high-profile international incident which resulted in the FBI, Justice Department, and Interpol stepping up. Faced with that, and -legal- court orders, I'm sure they had little choice but to turn over the info they had on them.
  • f-14
    Quote:
    Currently a member of HMA, and a while back their speeds were a bit flaky, they've improved that quite a bit to the point where I can max out my connection. Only other I have issues is that they -do- log and will forward copyright accusations.

    However, judicious use of -where- you connect to avoids most of those problems (ie: don't connect to an US server if you're going to torrent US films, in fact, avoid US servers in general...)

    As for their turning in of the hackers who were using their service, while they might shrug at copyright accusations (relatively victimless crime), remember what these guys did in the Sony hack, that was a high-profile international incident which resulted in the FBI, Justice Department, and Interpol stepping up. Faced with that, and -legal- court orders, I'm sure they had little choice but to turn over the info they had on them.


    that's not hiding your ass, that's 'giving up your ass' false advertising.
  • Rookie_MIB
    Anonymous said:

    that's not hiding your ass, that's 'giving up your ass' false advertising.


    No, because it's clear in the TOS that they DO keep track of logins and correlated to IP/DATE. They forwarded it and warned me that it was against their TOS and would terminate my account if it continued. That is also the -only- one I've ever gotten.

    These guys who did the Sony hack went way beyond a simple movie download though, they infiltrated a major company, using a service which clearly stated they did track that info, and would comply with a legal court order (not just a random threat letter from a copyright troll), and they thought they were untouchable.

    They were wrong.
  • carnetarian
    Anonymous said:
    that's not hiding your ass, that's 'giving up your ass' false advertising.


    This is right on the money. It sounds like this VPN will give you up in a heartbeat, which completely defeats the entire purpose of having a VPN. I wouldn't use this VPN if they paid me.
  • admin$
    I used to use HMA. They will not allow you to download any torrents which was the reason i had purchased the VPN in the first place. They sent me a warning then suspended my account. They auto renewed my subscription without notifying me in January, suspended my account in February. No refund. I would not recommend this software to anyone. I have since switched to PIA... no issues at all, would definitely recommend PIA.