Torrenting with Hotspot Shield: A Guide for 2020

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

Our Verdict

Hotspot Shield is a very fast VPN that doesn’t leak your data and supports unrestricted P2P traffic on its paid subscription plan. However, its invasive logging policy means we don’t recommend Hotspot Shield as a safe VPN for torrenting. There are simply better and safer VPNs available for protecting your torrenting activity.

a character peers through his computer screen into a world of torrent clients and files, but is protected by the Hotspot Shield badge

Your privacy and security is at risk every time you download torrent files without protection. Other torrenters in the swarm can use your IP address to target you with malicious attacks, and your ISP can monitor your P2P activity and use it to throttle your speeds or take legal action against you.

A good VPN will overcome these issues by hiding your IP address and encrypting your torrenting traffic. But be aware that not every VPN permits torrenting or is a good choice for P2P file-sharing.

Hotspot Shield is a popular VPN that allows torrenting on all its servers, if you sign up for its paid service. The free version, Hotspot Shield Basic, does not support P2P traffic.

In this guide, we’ll reveal the results of our extensive VPN testing process in order to evaluate whether Hotspot Shield Elite is a good and safe VPN for torrenting. We’ll also introduce some alternative VPN services that we consider to be better options for P2P activity.

To find out which VPNs are best for torrenting, read our 2020 recommendations.

Hotspot Shield for Torrenting: Pros & Cons

Here is a quick overview of the pros and cons to using Hotspot Shield for torrenting:

PROS CONS
  • Hotspot Shield allows torrenting on all paid servers
  • Incredibly fast upload and download speeds
  • No data cap or bandwidth throttling
  • Large server network with 3,000+ servers in 80+ countries
  • The provider actively endorses P2P activity
  • Effective leak protection
  • Hotspot Shield Free does not support torrenting
  • Invasive logging policy
  • No port forwarding
  • VPN kill switch only available on Windows
  • Dangerous jurisdiction (US)
  • Lack of transparency over Catapult Hydra

SUMMARY: Does Hotspot Shield allow torrenting?

Hotspot Shield allows torrenting on its paid plan, but not on its free version. With Hotspot Shield Elite, you can download torrents safely and with no restrictions whatsoever.

Is Hotspot Shield a Good Choice for Torrenting?

illustration of a character protecting torrent files using a seatbelt

Hotspot Shield is a good VPN for torrenting with quick speeds, strong security, and unlimited data. It supports P2P traffic across its entire network of 3,000+ servers, protects you against data leaks, and delivers some of the fastest connection speeds we’ve seen.

On top of this, the company openly endorses P2P activity. The website features a number of resources dedicated to torrenting safely and anonymously. Competitors like TunnelBear often shy away from endorsing torrenting, so it’s reassuring to see a VPN provider showing an open commitment.

Despite this, Hotspot Shield is not the most privacy-friendly VPN, which is a worry when it comes to P2P file-sharing. The logging policy is disappointingly invasive and there is a lack of transparency over the VPN’s proprietary connection protocol Catapult Hydra.

With governments, ISPs, copyright owners, and copyright trolls all looking to identify and expose torrenting activity, it’s vital that you trust your VPN to protect your privacy.

Although Hotspot Shield satisfies most of our criteria for a safe torrenting VPN, its logging policy isn’t trustworthy enough to recommend it as one of the best VPNs for downloading torrents.

The rest of this chapter will take an in-depth look at the features that make Hotspot Shield both good and bad for P2P file-sharing. Alternatively, you can check out some alternative VPNs that we believe are better for torrenting.

Fast Connection Speeds

Our experts regularly test over 70 VPNs and Hotspot Shield is one of the fastest we’ve seen. It delivers excellent speeds on both nearby and international connections – making torrenting large files quick and easy.

We’ve experienced as little as 1% speed loss when testing Hotspot Shield, which is practically unheard of. As our VPN speed test tool shows, it’s consistently up there as one of the fastest VPNs on the market:

VPN Speed Performance Comparison Chart

Hotspot Shield claims that these incredible upload and download speeds are due to its proprietary encryption protocol Catapult Hydra.

Not too much is known about Catapult Hydra, but it was supposedly designed to overcome some latency issues that other VPN protocols, such as OpenVPN and IKEv2, experience.

Big Server Network

Hotspot Shield desktop VPN app for Apple MacOS

Hotspot Shield Elite lets you choose between around 3,200 VPN servers distributed across 82 countries. This isn’t the largest server network we’ve seen, but it’s a very good size and is well spread out across the globe. Most importantly, P2P traffic is supported on all of them.

Popular countries such as the US, UK, Australia, and Canada are all covered, as well as other places that are less commonly accessible, such as Belarus and Algeria. City-level server choice is also being added.

The closer you are to the VPN server, the faster your connection speed tends to be. Hotspot Shield’s large server network means that no matter where you are in the world, you’re likely to have a server reasonably close by.

The size of the network is also beneficial as it reduces the threat of server congestion – where lots of users connect to the same server and cause it to run slower.

EXPERT TIP: Connect to the VPN server closest to your physical location to enjoy the fastest download and upload speeds.

No Data Cap or Bandwidth Limit

Unlike some VPN providers, Hotspot Shield Elite imposes no data cap whatsoever. This means you can torrent large files freely and without limit.

Our tests have also shown that Hotspot Shield does not throttle your speeds in any way.

Some VPNs will purposefully restrict your connection speeds if you engage in bandwidth-heavy activities, such as P2P file-sharing. Given that avoiding ISP throttling is one of the main reasons to torrent with a VPN in the first place, it’s important that your chosen provider does not limit your bandwidth.

It should be noted that Hotspot Shield Free does impose a 500MB data cap. So, even if it did permit P2P traffic, you wouldn’t be able to get very much done with such a small data allowance.

Invasive Logging Policy

Hotspot Shield has a history of questionable logging practices. Nowadays, the VPN doesn’t log any activity data, which is good. But, according to its privacy policy, it still collects a lot of other information about its users, including:

  • Your IP address: Hotspot Shield logs your IP address during your VPN session but claims not to link it to your online activity.
  • Your physical location: Your IP address is used to determine your approximate location which is then logged so that you can be automatically connected to the most local server.
  • Bandwidth usage: The amount of data you use each session is collected and stored for three years, supposedly for monitoring, supporting, and optimizing the service.
  • Connection timestamps: Details of when you connected to the VPN server are logged for the same purposes as bandwidth usage.
  • Logs of domain names: Hotspot Shield tracks the domains you visit without recording the specific URLs. These logs are kept for three years, but are aggregated on a monthly basis.
  • Device information: Details such as the type of device you use, your browser settings, operating system, internet service provider’s name, signal strength, and other device-specific information are recorded and stored.
  • Other data: Hotspot Shield Basic also collects your IMEI number, MAC address, unique advertising ID, and city location and openly shares it with third-party advertisers.

This amount of logging is far too invasive for a torrenting VPN. Even if none of this information can be tied back to your P2P activity, other VPNs are able to operate their service without infringing on user privacy in this way.

Hotspot Shield claims that the IP addresses and other data it stores is deleted straight after the session, however we can’t know this for sure. It’s a risk you can’t afford to take when downloading torrents – especially when there are many VPN providers who are truly no-logs.

It’s also worth noting that Hotspot Shield is based in the US, which is a member of the Five Eyes surveillance agreement. This increases the likelihood that the information Hotspot Shield has logged will find its way into the authorities’ hands.

Infographic showing the five eyes countries.

Encryption Strength & Advanced Security Features

To prevent ISPs, copyright trolls, and other torrenters from spying on your file-sharing, you need a VPN that uses unbreakable encryption and won’t leak your data.

Hotspot Shield secures your data with the military-grade encryption cipher AES-256. It also comes with a VPN kill switch, which blocks any and all traffic in the event that the VPN connection is lost.

This is an essential security feature for P2P users, but unfortunately Hotspot Shield only offers it to Windows users. MacOS or mobile torrenters are not protected by a kill switch.

The VPN also has a DNS Leak Protection feature and, when we tested Hotspot Shield, we were pleased to see no data leaks whatsoever.

Hotspot Shield’s most interesting feature, though, is Catapult Hydra. While most VPNs let you choose between a range of VPN protocols – including our recommended OpenVPN – Hotspot Shield forces you to use its proprietary protocol, named Catapult Hydra.

There isn’t too much information about Catapult Hydra, but we do know that it is closed-source, includes perfect forward secrecy, and was designed to offer lightning fast speeds.

Although it is certainly fast and seems to be very secure, too, this lack of transparency around Hotspot Shield’s encryption is cause for concern.

With an open-source protocol, the code can be inspected for bugs and vulnerabilities. But when the technology is closed-source, like Catapult Hydra is, all we can do is trust Hotspot Shield’s word that the protocol is safe and secure.

If you’re a P2P user concerned about privacy and anonymity, this might not be enough. You can read more about the safety of Catapult Hydra here.

You might also want to look elsewhere if you’re someone who likes to ‘seed’ torrent files. That is because Hotspot Shield doesn’t allow port forwarding, which is essential for uploading large files. If you need port forwarding, check out AirVPN or PrivateVPN.

SUMMARY

Costing as little as $2.99 a month, Hotspot Shield is a supremely fast VPN that has a large server network and is very P2P-friendly. Unfortunately, while it is probably safe for torrenting, the company’s intrusive logging policy and closed-source encryption mean we recommend using a different VPN for torrenting.

Alternative VPNs for Torrenting

Hotspot Shield is certainly not a bad VPN for torrenting, but there are safer options. Here are some alternative VPNs that we recommend as better than Hotspot Shield:

VPN Provider Cheapest Monthly Cost Avg. Local Speed Loss P2P Server Locations Logging Policy
ExpressVPN $6.67 7% 3000+ Anonymous Usage Data
Hotspot Shield $2.99 1% 3200+ Some User Logs
PrivateVPN $1.89 7% 150+ No Logs
NordVPN $3.49 2% 1300+ No Logs

1ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN reliably hides your IP address, has a verified no-logs policy, and offers excellent speeds for torrenting.

P2P traffic is permitted on all of ExpressVPN’s 3,500+ server network and the service comes with a host of invaluable security features, including DNS leak protection and a VPN kill switch available on most devices.

Although it is a more expensive option, ExpressVPN is simply the best VPN on the market and is our #1 recommendation for torrenting. You can even try it for free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The only drawback is that the VPN doesn’t allow port forwarding. Find out more by reading our dedicated guide to ExpressVPN and torrenting.

2PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN is a budget-friendly VPN that is excellent for torrenting. It offers P2P-optimized servers in 17 different countries, has a strict zero-logging policy, and delivers very fast download and upload speeds.

Unlike ExpressVPN, PrivateVPN also allows port forwarding – making it the best VPN for users who want to ‘seed’ torrent files as well as download them.

We love that PrivateVPN uses its own first-party DNS servers rather than relying on an unknown third-party to deal with DNS requests. All of its apps come with a VPN kill switch, and the service uses ultra-secure AES-256 and OpenVPN encryption.

Though its server network is much smaller than competitors, PrivateVPN is still a quick and super safe VPN. Costing just $1.89 a month, it’s a great choice for torrenting on a budget.

Read our full PrivateVPN review to learn more.

3NordVPN

NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the most popular VPNs for torrenting. It delivers industry-leading speeds, with as little as 2% speed loss on local connections, so you won’t have to wait long for your torrent files to download.

It’s also one of the safest and most privacy-friendly services we’ve reviewed. NordVPN’s strict no-logs policy has been independently verified, its Panama jurisdiction is a privacy haven, and the VPN uses the most secure encryption technologies.

Unlike Hotspot Shield, you can’t torrent on every single server in the network. However, there are enough P2P-optimized servers covering a wide range of countries that this shouldn’t be an issue.

Overall, NordVPN gives you everything you need in a torrenting VPN. It’s super affordable and also works great with streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer.

For a more in-depth look, check out our complete NordVPN review.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio