In the past, I’ve recommended Hotspot Shield from Anchor Free as a great virtual private network (VPN) application that allows you to securely run an internet connection even if you’re on an open wireless network. It spoofs your computer’s internet address (IP) making it look as if you are somewhere else and essentially hiding you from you everyone else on the wireless network. It also encrypts the information you send and receive via the VPN.
It has a couple of flaws, first and not so important, it won’t allow me to edit a WordPress blog while it’s connected, although I still get half-decent download speeds for everything else. Secondly, the latest version comes with more spyware than before, which is a far more worrying situation.
How do I know? Well, I reinstalled the operating system on my laptop and so had to reinstall programs too, including HotspotShield. I downloaded the latest version from the site, scanned it for viruses (none) and fired up the installation. ZoneAlarm firewall immediately alerted me to an attempt to start up another installer from freeze.com. A quick google revealed this to be associated with various spyware applications. I denied the program access and the next dialog box, a license agreement, from Hotspot confirmed my suspicions:
After clicking “Accept” you will be offered additional useful, quality software provided by reputable partners blah, blah, blah…”
Usual spyware disclaimer. AnchorFree always had the community toolbar, which looked dodgy, but has now opted for more spyware than before, but at least with ZoneAlarm running and a mouse hovering over the deny button it is still possible to install and run it without it injecting your computer with those programs.
Of course Hotspot has always been advertiser driven, it creates a frame at the top of every web page you visit while using it that displays ads, after all. These can be disabled using NoScript in Firefox. I discovered after starting this post that Hotspot previously offered the Dealio spyware browser toolbar and gave you the option not to install that.
My recommendation? HotspotShield is apparently upfront about installing extra applications and seems to give you the opportunity to deny the installation. However, even if you deny those installations, ZoneAlarm pops up an alert asking that freeze.com be allowed to install. Now, this may actually just be the installer for Hotspot itself, but I’m not so sure now.
I have also had some test results back from a Sciencetext reader who suggests that Hotspot is pushing cookies for ad revenue that most users would prefer not to have. Time to abandon Hotspot and find an alternative preferably more secure and open VPN system.