Antivirus

HideMyAss! (HMA) VPN

$6.56/mthViewHide My Ass6 months$8.33/mthViewHide My Ass1 month$11.52/mthViewVPN business, HideMyAss! (HMA) has been protecting its users’ privacy for more than 15 years, and it’s been owned by security giant Avast since 2016.The company offers a vast network of 1,000+ servers in 290+ locations across 190+ countries. That’s fewer servers than some of the top providers, but…

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VPN business, HideMyAss! (HMA) has been protecting its users’ privacy for more than 15 years, and it’s been owned by security giant Avast since 2016.

The company offers a vast network of 1,000+ 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 5,800+ servers across 59 countries, ExpressVPN has 3,000+ servers across 160 locations and 94 countries).

  • Want to try HideMyAss? Check out the website here

pricing page and the company looks distinctly short on plans, with just one-year and three-year options.

In reality, HideMyAss! has more plans than most of the competition, they’re just not easy to find on the website. No, that doesn’t make any sense to us, either, but there’s a summary of what’s available in this blog post.

The monthly plan is priced at $11.99. That’s in the range you’d expect from a top VPN, but not something that’s suitable for more than a very occasional one-off month. (Surfshark gives you two years of service for under $48, or $1.99 a month).

The six-month plan is also more expensive than we’d like at $7.99 a month. The price drops to $5.99 over a year, $4.99 over two years, and $3.99 over three. If you’re happy with the company, these aren’t bad prices, but many other providers offer much better value. You can sign up with Private Internet Access for just $3.33 a month, for instance, and that’s just on the annual plan – there is no need to pay for several years upfront.

A Family plan gets you a year of coverage for everyone in your household, and supports up to 10 simultaneous connections, for $12.99 a month. It’s good that this option is provided, but you could buy up to six Surfshark two-year plans for less money.

HideMyAss! Business plans enable supporting more simultaneous connections. These are priced much the same as the Family plan – around $13 a month for 10 connections, $26 for 20, $39 for 30 – and HideMyAss! can do tailored quotes if you need more.

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

A 7-day free trial gives you a decent amount of time to try out the service, something you won’t get with most of the competition. 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. This had some annoying catches a few years ago (it was only valid for customers who used less than 10GB of data and made fewer than 100 connections), but they’ve been ditched, and if anything, the small print is more generous than most.

For instance, if you’ve had one refund from a VPN, then most won’t give you another, even years later. HideMyAss! will give you as many as appropriate, just as long as there’s at least six months between refund requests.

Logging

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 have published 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.

HideMyAss!

This is the new and improved user interface of the Windows client (Image credit: HideMyAss!)

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 (card or PayPal) 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, and some pointers on using the service with Linux. This isn’t as well-presented as high-end competitors such as ExpressVPN – you don’t get the same number of tutorials on setting up the service manually, and there’s no link to download the Android APK file for manual installation elsewhere – but it covers the basics well.

HideMyAss! has completely redesigned its apps since our last review, with brand new, streamlined and simplified interfaces across the range.

The old ‘Instant’, ‘Location’ and ‘Freedom’ modes have been ditched, and the new versions work much like most other VPN apps: it has a list of locations, an On/Off button, and a Settings dialog with some useful tweaks.

HideMyAss!

The Location Picker has been nicely streamlined compared to the old app (Image credit: HideMyAss!)

The Location Picker doesn’t force you to scroll – and scroll, and scroll – to find what you need. You’re now able to view locations by continent or type (streaming or P2P optimized), enter text in a Search box, or save commonly used locations as Favorites for speedy access later.

The Location Picker doesn’t have any latency or server load indicators, but there is a Speed Test option which detects your nearest servers and calculates their latencies and download speeds.

HideMyAss!

The Windows client has not one, but two, kill switches (Image credit: HideMyAss!)

A sidebar contains a small number of configuration options, including a setting to automatically connect to the VPN whenever you access the internet, and to enable the client’s two kill switches. Yes, two: if the VPN drops, a system-wide kill switch protects you by blocking internet access, and an optional app kill switch closes down your chosen processes (your browser or torrent client, say).

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.

The app kill switch is unusual, because as well as terminating specific apps if the VPN drops, it also automatically connects to HideMyAss! when you launch those apps.

This is a nice idea, and it worked during testing, but it doesn’t offer enough control. You might not want to connect to the VPN every time you open your torrent client, for instance, but HideMyAss! doesn’t care: once it’s on the app kill switch list, that’s what will happen. The client should treat the auto-connect option as a separate feature and make it configurable for each app.

Tucked away in the Preferences box, 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 refine the auto-connect feature, and maybe have it connect to HideMyAss! when you access a public network, but not with networks you trust, when you are, say, at home or work.

Small but thoughtful touches include the ability to view your OpenVPN connection log, which is potentially very useful in troubleshooting connection issues.

HideMyAss!

The Android app has a very similar user interface to its iOS and Windows counterparts (Image credit: HideMyAss!)

The Android and iOS apps have a near identical interface to the Windows client, and once you’ve found your way around one, you’ll have no problem using the others.

The Android app has an extra feature in its new split tunneling support, though. In a click or two you’re able to decide which apps should use the encrypted tunnel, and which are left with your regular connection.

The mobile apps have smarter auto-connect rules, too, and can automatically connect you to the VPN when you join unsecure Wi-Fi networks only, or with any Wi-Fi, or both Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

The various HideMyAss! apps aren’t the most powerful we’ve seen, and despite the redesign, they’re not the easiest to use. They’re likeable, though, and mostly do a good job, and we expect they’ll quickly improve as HideMyAss! uncovers and fixes issues with the new interface.

  • Get up to 60% off HideMyAss! with our exclusive offer here

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 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 good at around five seconds, even for the most distant locations (some VPNs are twice that, or more), and ping times lengthened for faraway 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 an excellent 69-71Mbps on our test 75Mbps connection, only around 4-5% down on our performance with the VPN turned off.

We made our US checks from a superfast 600Mbps connection, allowing us to see what level of performance the HideMyAss! servers can sustain. Speeds weren’t much better than the UK, at 75-80Mbps, well down on the 140-200Mbps we saw in our last review.

Our tests were conducted at the beginning of April 2020, when a lot of the world was in coronavirus-prompted lockdown, with VPN and internet traffic at record levels, so it’s possible this had an effect. As there’s no way for us to say for sure, we’re not going to count these results as a major black mark against the company, this time.

Even if that 75-80Mbps US performance was all you’d ever get, though, that’s still more than enough for most purposes, and quick checks from the UK showed even the most distant servers manage

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Antivirus

What is malware and how dangerous is it?

Malware is a contraction of ‘malicious software’, and is an all-encompassing term for any program designed specifically to attack, damage or compromise a system in some way.Malware only exists to attempt to exploit your device or personal data in some manner, usually for the author’s own gain – say, for example, stealing your online banking…

Malware is a contraction of ‘malicious software’, and is an all-encompassing term for any program designed specifically to attack, damage or compromise a system in some way.

Malware only exists to attempt to exploit your device or personal data in some manner, usually for the author’s own gain – say, for example, stealing your online banking details – but sometimes it effectively represents random acts of virtual violence, such as a virus which just nukes your entire system.

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Strains of malware

Malware is a broad term, so is often employed very generally to cover anything bad happening to your PC in terms of rogue software that exploits your system in some way.

However, there are different subsets of commonly recognized malware, and we’ll now look briefly at the main offenders (there are other variations out there, too).

The virus (which we’ve already mentioned) is one of the most common types of malware. A virus comes embedded in a piece of software or file, and infects the system when that app or file is run. When that happens, what’s called the payload is triggered – in other words, the bad things that happen to your PC (which you may not even notice, as some effects are designed to be stealthy). Then the virus – as its name suggests – can spread itself to other files, and therefore potentially to other PCs (if those files are transferred).

A worm acts in much the same way to spread itself, but is even more dangerous, because it doesn’t need to be ‘triggered’ by the user (via a file being run) – it automatically propagates itself.

A Trojan is another kind of malware which pretends to be a legitimate program (being named, of course, after the famous Trojan horse). In other words, it’s specifically designed to look like a useful app, but will actually wreak malicious havoc on your system when run; a nasty concept indeed.

Ransomware is even nastier, though, and when unleashed on your PC – either via a file, or a website – it locks your machine (and all your files), threatening to delete everything by a certain deadline if you don’t pay a specified ransom online.

A laptop user looking worried about malware

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How bad is bad?

On the subject of how dangerous malware is, the short answer is very. As we’ve indicated, some types of malware are particularly nasty, like ransomware which effectively locks up your digital life away from you – and even if you pay the ransom demanded, there’s no guarantee the author of the malware will actually let you have your files back. And if you haven’t backed up your data, then you really are in serious trouble (do remember that there’s some great free backup software out there).

However, any type of malware is seriously bad news generally speaking, and can have all sorts of negative effects on your PC, including spying on you (via a webcam perhaps), stealing your online passwords or other personal data, slowing your PC or internet connection down, or indeed just completely destroying all your files.

So, malware isn’t just dangerous – in fact, it can be deadly, at least to your files and system.

Should I never go online again?

The common thread with all these types of malware is that you contract them online, from either an app or file you downloaded, or a website (often via an email link). Obviously, it’s not an option to never go online again just because of what might happen with malware – but rather, it’s a matter of being aware of potential risks and taking simple precautions.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into detail on this, but the basics are that firstly and most importantly, you should use a good antivirus app (there are capable free antivirus products out there, or even Windows Defender is a solid enough proposition now and it comes built-in with Windows 10 by default, so even the terminally lazy don’t have any excuse for not using something).

Malware detected

(Image credit: Comodo)

Secondly, be very careful what you click on. If there’s a link on a social media site which seems suspicious, don’t follow it. If you have any doubts about a link sent to you in an email, or you’re worried about a dodgy-looking email attachment, again – leave it well alone. Be wary of anything that’s labeled as ‘urgent’ or seems to be demanding that you click it, and don’t forget, if you’re not sure about something, you can always check with the sender if the email is genuine or not.

Finally, always download software from an official store (like the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 PCs, for example, or Google Play with Android), or the maker’s website wherever possible. Don’t use any remotely suspicious-looking website or third-party store (at the same time, don’t think that official stores are bulletproof for malware – but they are far less likely to have been compromised).

What about my business?

Malware can be hugely damaging to businesses as well as individuals. Hackers often use malware to try and gain entry into an organisation’s systems or networks, from where they can access valuable data to steal and sell on. Companies can face targeted attacks via malware that can cripple their systems, causing outages that could cause technical and financial damage.

To stay safe, businesses must ensure they have a full security suite offering installed that includes the latest up to date malware protection. This must be updated regularly, as hackers often switch up their tactics to take advantage of the latest threats.

What is malware and how dangerous is it?

Malware or

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Antivirus

Is antivirus software necessary in 2020?

The perceived wisdom is that you should have antivirus software installed on your PC and an app of some kind on your mobile. Or that’s certainly been the case historically – if you don’t, the argument has always been that you’re running some major risks.However, given advancements in operating systems and security in general, is…

The perceived wisdom is that you should have antivirus software installed on your PC and an app of some kind on your mobile. Or that’s certainly been the case historically – if you don’t, the argument has always been that you’re running some major risks.

However, given advancements in operating systems and security in general, is this still true in 2020? Should you definitely be running antivirus software today? Or are there any good reasons why you might not want to?

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Arguments against antivirus

antivirus on Windows 10, but there are arguments against doing so. In some cases they’re not particularly valid ones, at least in our opinion, but they exist nonetheless.

One main pillar of the ‘anti-antivirus mindset’, as it were, is that if you’re sensible and careful enough about what you do online, only visiting legitimate websites, official software stores, and policing the links you click on with a suitable degree of vigilance, you probably won’t encounter any malware anyway.

And therefore the argument is you don’t need to pay for antivirus, and even if you install a third-party free antivirus app, it’s still another program on your system that might slow it down somewhat (some antivirus software can have more of an impact on system performance, and of course free software may also pop up ads and so on).

Another more pressing worry aired in recent times is that some of the antivirus software out there carries a number of vulnerabilities, and these could be a potential avenue of exploitation for an attacker. In other words, the potential irony is that your antivirus software could be an avenue for your machine to be compromised.

That’s a legitimate concern, as we’ve seen in recent times, when for example in March 2020, Avast disabled a major part of its antivirus software which suffered from a dangerous vulnerability that a respected security researcher flagged up.

So, as you can see, there are some gray areas when it comes to answering the question of whether you should run an antivirus. However, there are much stronger reasons as to why you should use an antivirus, which we’ll explore next.

Antivirus for the win

Clearly the most worrying issue raised in the above section is the final point, so it’s worth clarifying that the chances of your antivirus being used as an avenue of attack in some manner are pretty slim. In truth, there are far bigger targets for malicious actors to focus on than any given security app.

We’re talking about gaping holes in operating systems, and much more widely used software like web browsers, which will be far juicier propositions to exploit for hackers and other miscreants.

The thing is, it’s these major targets which are the real pay dirt for malware authors, and an antivirus can defend you against those far more dangerous threats. So really, the good that these apps are doing in that respect far outweighs any potential bad in terms of possible flaws within the security of the antivirus itself. It’s that simple – although also bear in mind that to minimize any risk at all, use one of the best apps out there which are pieces of software that benefit from being tightly and securely coded.

Moving on to consider the potential slowdown that might be visited on your PC by installing an antivirus, the trick here is to check out our antivirus reviews to discover the lean apps which have little impact on system performance – there are some very streamlined products out there (like Norton and Kaspersky, for instance).

Antivirus security is important

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As for the argument that being careful about what you download and click on is enough to keep you safe, well, that’s true to a large extent, but here’s the rub: even if you’re clued-up and super-safe, there’s always a slight chance that you might come a cropper if you’re online with absolutely no protection.

Even legitimate big-name websites can unintentionally become vehicles for malware via the adverts they serve, if the advertising networks who they’ve partnered with are compromised (this has happened to some high-profile sites in the past). So it’s a rather dangerous assumption to make that safe surfing habits and other good practices are all you need.

Besides, less tech-savvy users may not be all that confident about knowing how to stay safe online anyway, so would be seriously ill-advised to go without antivirus protection.

And for those who don’t particularly want to go to the effort of researching and trying to find the best antivirus out there, at least on Windows 10 PCs, you’re already protected by default via Windows Defender. And these days, Windows Defender provides a perfectly palatable level of protection to get by with.

The final major reason why you should use an antivirus app is the dangerous nature of the threats out there these days, with, for example, nasty strains of ransomware threatening to lock away your entire digital life, or stealthy crypto-mining malware slowing down your PC while you may not even notice.

Is antivirus software necessary in 2020?

Yes, in a word.

In truth

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Antivirus

Panda Adaptive Defense 360

When it comes to internet security, most organisations if given the option, would like to stick to the old adage: prevention is better than cure. But that isn’t always possible given the permeable nature of the environment a majority of the organisations operate under these days and the increased sophistication of the attacks. Panda has a…

When it comes to internet security, most organisations if given the option, would like to stick to the old adage: prevention is better than cure. But that isn’t always possible given the permeable nature of the environment a majority of the organisations operate under these days and the increased sophistication of the attacks. 

Panda has a series of enterprise protection products to shield organisations from the constant onslaught. The crown-jewel in their product portfolio is Adaptive Defense 360 (AD360) that makes good use of the latest buzzword-compliant technologies (read: big data and AI) in its bid to outsmart the attackers with just the right amount of endpoint protection features.

Panda Adaptive Defense 36src 1

(Image credit: Panda)

Features  

endpoint protection platform (EPP) suite that includes a host of other features, most notably endpoint detection and response (EDR) and patch management. You can use it to block malicious apps as well as filter web content, manage patches, and more. 

Another AD360 feature that it’s particularly proud of is the 100% attestation service, which only allows apps certified by Panda to run. Behind the curtains, it evaluates 10,000 different attributes for each executable, to classify it as either good or bad. Also of note is the threat hunting service that Panda claims can detect attacks that don’t use known malware signatures and more importantly, even thwart malicious actions of insiders.

Panda Adaptive Defense 36src 2

(Image credit: Panda)

All said and done, AD360 protects against a wide range of threats including known and unknown zero-day malware, fileless malware, ransomware, advanced persistent threats (APTs), phishing attacks, potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), and can also thwart any malicious in-memory exploits.

While most users will be happy with its default mode of operation, the platform is flexible enough to make way for exceptions. If you know what you’re doing, you can allow the execution of an item that has been flagged as a threat.

All of its functionality is exposed via a remote cloud interface, which makes installation a non-issue and management fairly straightforward. The platform offers a detailed look into the endpoints, and also offers detailed forensic information to all malicious activities.

There are several optional add-on services as well including a patch management service that’ll keep its eyes peeled for any patches for Windows and all third-party apps.

Panda Adaptive Defense 36src 3

(Image credit: Panda)

Interface and use

One of the best features of AD360 is its cloud-based management interface. It’s logically arranged and exposes lots of functionality, without intimidating first time users. 

The interface brings up the Status menu that gives you an overview of the entire network. Most of its visualizations are clickable and will help you further drill down into particular areas to get more details. The State menu has several dashboards, each of which monitors a specific area of the platform. 

For instance, the Security dashboard gives you the security status of your network. Then there’s the Web access and spam dashboard that you can use to analyse web traffic as well as email on your Microsoft Exchange servers. You’ll have others if you’ve subscribed to other AD360 services like Patch Management, though our main focus is on the Security dashboard.

The Security dashboard has several widgets that each keep track of different aspects of the network. The information in the panels is generated in near-real time and most of the widgets can be clicked through to display more detailed information. 

The first step however is to switch to the Computers menu to add new endpoints. You can use the interface to download or email download links to Windows, macOS, Linux or Android agents. One of the good things about the process is that once you have installed the agent on a Windows computer, it will automatically discover other computers on the same subnet and you can then install the agent on these machines remotely from the administration interface.

Panda Adaptive Defense 36src 4

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Antivirus

This cheap HP laptop hides a surprising secret that barely anyone noticed

HP 14-DK1003DX – $239.99 at Best Buy (roughly £190/AU$350) This exceptionally affordable HP laptop from Best Buy contains the AMD Athlon Silver – a processor found in only very few other laptops. It also comes with a range of freebies to sweeten the package, like free antivirus and cloud storage. If you don’t mind the…

HP 14-DK1003DX – $239.99 at Best Buy
(roughly £190/AU$350)
This exceptionally affordable HP laptop from Best Buy contains the AMD Athlon Silver – a processor found in only very few other laptops. It also comes with a range of freebies to sweeten the package, like free antivirus and cloud storage. If you don’t mind the antiquated display resolution, it’s well worth a punt.View Deal

You won’t find this laptop on HP’s own website, but the 14-DK1003DX – a Best Buy exclusive at $239.99 (roughly £190/AU$350) – has an intriguing quality that not many have picked up on.

The machine is one of very few business laptops to come with an AMD Athlon Silver processor. Athlon was the iconic CPU brand that helped drive the company forward the beginning of this century and has been in limbo for about a decade. It’s now back and (surprise, surprise) is powered by AMD’s Zen+ architecture.

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  • The rest of the specification is adequate for the price: there’s 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD (not eMMC), a 14-inch display, Windows 10 Home in S Mode (which can be upgraded to Windows 10 Home), a 3-cell Lithiu

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