*This review was written by guest blogger Yasir Mudathir and edited by Matthew Byrd
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a cybersecurity tool that secures your browsing by hiding your data. This is done by encrypting the data that passes through a VPN providers service, i.e. TunnelBear. The servers one uses are grouped by country, allowing you to get around geo-restrictions and access content you couldn’t regularly see, such as Netflix or BBC.
TunnelBear is a fuzzy, bear-themed app that looks to make using a VPN a simple and enjoyable experience. I found this app’s attention to detail, design, and UX charming and effective. That’s not all TunnelBear offers, though. This VPN service provider touts a ‘grizzly-grade security’ that has been annually audited by a third-party cybersecurity firm for the past two years. It also touts a strict policy of transparency that is head of its class.
Let’s take a deeper look at TunnelBear to see how this VPN sets itself apart.
First things first: most VPNs aren’t free. However, TunnelBear offers a free service to users, which gives you access to the entire server network (with the exception of the Australia server) but is limited to 500MB of data per month. You can get more data by tweeting to TunnelBear (@theTunnelBear). This will give you an extra 1 GB of data, but that still probably won’t last long for most people.
The 1.5GB might not meet all of your encryption needs, but it’s good enough to decide whether or not to start a free trial.
In terms of accessibility and design, TunnelBear’s shocking attention to detail stands out. The user interface is a bright and inviting array of colors complemented by surprisingly helpful bear assistants. Indeed, TunnelBear is brimming with bear-related Easter eggs.
TunnelBear’s unique value is in its simplicity, especially towards novice users. The service’s inviting design and simplicity achieves just that, resulting in a unique and enjoyable experience for users of all proficiencies.
Let’s be clear, security makes or breaks your VPN. TunnelBear’s security definitely makes it.
TunnelBear boasts an AES256 encryption across iOS, Android, and Windows, even supporting Linux (though it does not have a dedicated app). It also offers 256-bit AES OpenVPN cipher for Windows, Mac OS, and Android. The IKEv2 cipher is used for iOS, which is the best option at the moment due to the iOS configuration settings. You can find a more detailed overview of the setting possibilities TunnelBear website.
Both OpenVPN and IKEv2 are secure and top-notch encryption ciphers. OpenVPN is an open source, while IKEv2 can be used natively on various devices (no app required)
TunnelBear performs fairly well in speed tests, even if it’s a little sluggish at times.
Before diving into the full results, it’s important to remember that there are many factors that influence speed. Some of these factors are controlled by the VPN, such as server quality and bandwidth load. Other factors, however, are outside of the VPN’s control, such as your network settings, computer CPU, and potential interference from your internet provider.
However, my baseline download speed (without a VPN) for testing was about 70 Mbps. The nearest TunnelBear VPN server I tested (in Canada) had a download speed of 50 Mbps. TunnelBear’s speed with a VPN server in the United Kingdom was about 30 Mbps. That’s slightly over a 50% drop off in speed.
I also ran tests with other servers in Europe as well as Canada and Australia. The results were decent throughout the server network. I did not have any issues with dropped connections or other network problems. Even better, the service doesn’t use too many resources. That means you won’t notice much of a drop in device performance when using the service.
All in all, these are respectable speeds, but they are in no way the best in class. TunnelBear seems to stand in the middle of the pack amongst its competitors in that respect.
Obfuscation is the process of concealing your use of a VPN. TunnelBear provides an obfuscation feature called GhostBear.
GhostBear basically hides (obfuscates) your VPN traffic to protect you against deep packet inspection(DPI) and VPN restrictions. Obfuscation is a must-have feature where VPNs are getting blocked. This is often the case in restrictive countries, such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia, as well as with work or school networks.
There have also been reports of ISPs (internet service providers) interfering with VPN traffic. I’ve seen different user reports claiming that this is happening in both the United States as well as some countries in Europe. TunnelBear’s obfuscation features ideally solve that problem.
The GhostBear obfuscation feature is available on iOS, Windows, Mac OS, and Android.
TunnelBear offers a leak protection option called VigilantBear. This feature acts as a kill switch to block all traffic when there is no active VPN connection and can be activated directly within the VPN application. This means you can ensure your privacy hasn’t ever been compromised in the case of service interruptions.
If you’re particularly cautious about your browsing anonymity, it is important to remember to enable VigilantBear to be protected against leaks.
TunnelBear makes an industry-leading effort in convincing you they are the most trustworthy VPN around. The VPN provider annually undergoes a third-party security audit, with an independent cybersecurity firm Cure53. In these audits, there is a holistic review of TunnelBear’s code, identifying weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the infrastructure that are promptly addressed by TunnelBear. This is yet to be a mirror in the by other VPNs industry, making TunnelBear an industry trailblazer in transparency.
They tout a transparent “no-logging policy” and discloses the specific information required to run the service. Their terms and conditions in that respect can be found below:
TunnelBear does not store IP addresses of users who connect to our network
TunnelBear ONLY stores minimal information to operate:
– Data usage
– Did/Did Not connect to service this month (0 or 1)
– TunnelBear app version
– OS Version
– Email, Password
– No ads injected into user web traffic or data sold to third parties.’
24/7 In-House Support
You can get in touch with support directly from the TunnelBear website in the member’s area.
Tunnelbear offers both free (limited to 500 Mb of data, an additional 1GB of data available upon tweeting to @TheTunnelBear) and paid plans.
Beyond that, paid plans come in one of two flavors:
Giant ($9.99/month): 5 devices and unlimited data across platforms.
Grizzly ($4.99/month paid annually): The same features but at a discounted price.
You can get more details about the different pricing plans (including current sales) via the TunnelBear website.
Refund and Trial Policy
TunnelBear offers a 7 Day Free Trial. It essentially replaces a more traditional refund policy. So far as that goes, the 7 day period is sufficient for testing the compatibility of their service.
Still, the official policy is that all payments are non-refundable. However, they may grant certain exceptions depending on your situation.
TunnelBear offers a wide selection of servers around the world. They currently have servers in 22 different countries, spanning six continents. On average, 1000 servers available at a time, 70% of which are virtual.
TunnelBear is a bear-themed VPN service that offers user-friendly applications, reliable support, and admirable levels of security. While we wish its speed was just a bit better, it’s still one of the best overall VPN options out there. You certainly can’t go wrong by signing up for its 7-day free trial.