Hidden24 full review
Hidden24 is a small VPN provider which operates a little differently to most of its rivals and because of that will offer advantages to some people looking for anonymity, privacy and the ability to unblock services that other VPN’s don’t.
It was created by a group of Swedish journalists in 2005 in response to their country's snooping laws, but it’s now a VPN service that anyone can use. It offers locations in the UK, US, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Sweden: not the vast choice you get with some providers, but enough for those in the US and Europe to connect to a local server, and it covers the key regions for unblocking services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
Features & ease of use
One of the first things to know about Hidden24 is that it doesn’t have an app. Instead, it uses the built-in VPN settings in Windows, Android, iOS and macOS.
This approach has both advantages and disadvantages. Starting with the positives, it means you only need to have your username, password and a couple of other details in order to use the service on any device: there’s no software to download.
That saves on storage space, but more importantly it means there’s less drain on other resources, including in RAM and battery life.
It does, however, mean that Hidden24 is limited to the features and protocols on offer in each operating system, so there’s no kill switch for example, which would stop any data being sent or received should the VPN tunnel unexpectedly collapse.
There's also the drawback that there's no OpenVPN support, and while it's debatable whether this protocol is faster or more secure than others, OpenVPN can be configured to operate on different ports. And this means it's much easier to hide VPN traffic and get around firewalls which can more easily block, say, L2TP/IPsec.
Another thing to bear in mind is that using an operating system’s built-in VPN affects all internet traffic, with no option to exclude certain apps (this is known as split-tunnelling) or to restrict the VPN only to a certain web browser (you’d use a browser extension for that with other VPNs).
It’s relatively simple to connect and disconnect the VPN connection in most operating systems (you can see the VPN toggle in the iPhone's Settings below) but you’re in charge of enabling and disabling the connection when it’s needed. There’s no way to automatically connect when your device switches to an unknown or open Wi-Fi network, nor when you launch a particular app – unless the operating system provides those options.
There's also no notification in some operating systems, including iOS, to tell you when the VPN becomes disconnected.
Plus, a significant downside is that devices which don’t support VPNs natively – such as the Amazon Fire TV – are inconvenient to protect with Hidden24. Essentially, the only way to do so is to enter your account details into a router which does support VPN connections natively.
The bottom line is that Hidden24 is not the easiest VPN to use. We’re told that the company is considering building an app, which would solve a lot of these issues.
Security and privacy
As we’ve said, Hidden24 is limited to using the VPN protocols that are built into the main operating systems. And using Windows as one example, that means using either the outdated PPTP or L2TP/IPsec. Hidden24 says you should only really use the former if you're just unblocking streaming sites, but for better security and privacy, use L2TP/IPsec.
When you do use the latter, which the company says is just as secure as OpenVPN when used on its proprietary network, you get 256-bit encryption.
And unlike many rivals which rent their servers, Hidden24 runs its own custom hardware. This is more like a router than a traditional server. The advantage here is that, there are no hard disks and no Linux or Windows operating system, and because they are fully owned and operated, the whole system is much more secure.
This is partly why Hidden24 says that it logs absolutely nothing: no data is ever saved which would record when you connected and disconnected, nor which sites you visited or services you used while connected.
And, it follows that it shouldn’t matter too much that Hidden24 is based in the “14-eyes” group of countries since even if local authorities asked for data to be turned over, there’s nothing to share.
Pricing & plans
Although only an email address is required to sign up to Hidden24, there is no way to pay anonymously. Your only option is to pay using a credit or debit card, so you can’t remain entirely anonymous. However, this is a minor quibble which will bother only a minority of people.
A little more annoying is that there is no free trial nor money-back guarantee. If you do want to try the service, you’ll have to sign up for a month for £4.99 / $5.99.
Assuming you’re happy, you can sign up for three months to save 10% per month, or for a year which brings the effective price down by 20% compared to just paying for a month at a time. As usual, you’ll be billed for the whole period up front. You can cancel at any time, but there are no refunds
There's an exclusive deal available that'll get you the first three months for just £3.33, too. You can take advantage of that deal here.
One niggle is that you can't have multiple devices using the VPN at the same time: only one connection is allowed. This makes Hidden24 slightly worse value than some of its competitors that let you connect several devices simultaneously.
Despite there being plenty of negativity about how “slow” L2TP/IPsec is, we saw great performance from Hidden24’s UK server where there were only small drops in speed compared to when the VPN was disconnected. You can see a single result from the UK server below, and below that are the results from the US server, when connecting from the UK.
Speeds from the UK to the US server were also good, though not the fastest we’ve seen. The Spanish server returned the slowest results we saw, with a download speed of only 15Mb/s – a huge drop from our usual 90Mb/s.
Most users will likely stick to the UK or US servers, though, and we were pleased to find no issues when attempting to watch US Netflix from the UK, and BBC iPlayer when not in the UK.
We did see some strange results when checking for DNS and IP leaks. When connected to the Spanish server, for example, some sites thought we were located in France, and DNS servers were reporting locations in the Netherlands and Belgium. This is because Hidden24 uses Google's DNS servers, but thankfully at no point were our real IP address or ISP's DNS servers leaked.
As it is a smaller service, it tends to fly under the radar as far as streaming services are concerned, so we had no issues watching US Netflix from the UK, nor accessing BBC iPlayer using the UK server.
Hidden24 operates a ticketed support system and doesn’t have live 24/7 live chat or phone support.
This means you might face a bit of a wait to get the answers to your questions, which could be frustrating if you’re having problems and need a solution quickly. We submitted a ticked on a Wednesday afternoon and didn't get a response until Monday morning - far from ideal.
Once set up, however, you’re unlikely to need support as the service runs reliably and you can see the service status on Hidden24’s home page. There are dozens of articles which could solve your problem in the online knowledgebase, but oddly not one which explains how to change between servers.
There is a downloadable PDF (as there is with step-by-step instructions for setting up the VPN on each operating system) but this is on the Getting Started page and isn’t duplicated in the Support section.
To save you looking it up, the process is simple: you just create a new VPN connection with the same details but change the default server address from connect.hidden24.co.uk to us.hidden24.co.uk (or the prefix for the country you want).
Hidden24 does what it does pretty well. The service, at its core, works reliably and for the most part speedily. Once you know the server address, remember your login and the pre-shared key you can set up the connection on any device that supports a VPN in a couple of minutes.
It does lack features compared to services with great apps, and the lack of a kill switch isn't ideal - but we didn't experience any connection drops during our testing that would have required the feature.
Ultimately, security is very good and it isn't bad value if you don't need all the bells and whistles from a VPN service: it's great for tech-savvy people who don't want to install a VPN app. For everyone else, the convenience of an app - especially on those devices which don't natively support a VPN - means you're better off with another service.