You may not have heard the name before reading our TunnelBear review. As background, TunnelBear is a VPN company based in Toronto, Canada and owned by antivirus giant McAfee, which acquired it in March 2018. Its server coverage is smaller than its competitors’ and it doesn’t throw around any flamboyant features, but instead comes in a simple, compact, and affordable packaging for everyone who is not a VPN perfectionist and has no interest in extravagant features.
It's one of the newer entries on our best VPN services (opens in new tab) guide, and is perfect for anyone who just wants a virtual private network for very basic or light use, and doesn't want to pay a whole lot for it.
TunnelBear review: Privacy
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TunnelBear uses 256-bit AES encryption as default. It also relies on SHA1-HMAC with 160bit Secure Hash Algorithm data authentication for preventing things like the man-in-the-middle attacks. Furthermore, TunnelBear also employs handshake encryption in the form of RSA-2048 - 2048 Ephemeral Diffie-Helman (DH) key exchange and 2048bit RSA certificate for verification. This prevents users from accidentally connecting to an attacker pretending to be a TunnelBear server.
To encrypt devices, it uses FileVault for Mac, BitLocker for Windows, Data Protection on iOS, and the Android bundled encryption option. TunnelBear’s version of a kill switch is called VigilantBear and it blocks all internet traffic in case your VPN connection is suddenly interrupted.
The provider’s GhostBear feature (currently unavailable on iOS) makes your encrypted information less detectable to any outside snoopers by making VPN traffic less traceable on your network. However, you don’t necessarily need to have the option on, only in cases when you’re unable to connect or maintain a connection normally as this might mean that your ISP is blocking or throttling the connection. On top of these strong security features, TunnelBear employs regular, independent security audits to confirm the truthfulness of its claims and verify its quality.
The provider’s no-logging policy guarantees it will not collect, store, or log IP addresses visiting its website, IP addresses upon service connection, DNS queries while connected, or any other information about the applications, services, or websites used while connected to TunnelBear.
The company allows you to review and delete your account data (personal and financial information) at any time. TunnelBear collects operational data such as OS version, app versions used, total data used per month, as well as operational events like the creation of an account, making payments, etc, but promises that no personal data will be disclosed to other commercial parties under any circumstances.
TunnelBear review: Features and apps
No, TunnelBear isn't as feature-rich as the likes of ExpressVPN (opens in new tab) and NordVPN (opens in new tab). When using TunnelBear Windows or Mac client, two protocols are available - OpenVPN and IKEv2. According to the company’s blog, when connecting “they race each other to see who’ll connect first. The one that does, is the protocol your connection will use until you turn TunnelBear off.” That said, you can select between TCP and UDP connections. The Android client automatically uses OpenVPN, while iOS devices use IPSec/IKEv2 protocol.
If you’re a Chrome user, TunnelBear has an ad-blocking feature, which blocks simple ads and protects against online tracking. TunnelBear clients also have a feature that lets you connect to the closest server for the best possible speeds.
The split-tunnelling feature available on Android devices is called SplitBear and it allows you to choose which apps you want to run with your regular connection and which you want to run under TunnelBear. Simultaneous connections are supported on up to five devices, which is pretty standard - if you need more, CyberGhost (opens in new tab) actually offers seven.
TunnelBear supports P2P traffic at all locations, although some servers are better than others for such purposes, so it might be a good idea to contact support for recommendations.
Netflix is currently successfully blocking all of TunnelBear’s servers, and every attempt to access its geo-restricted service will give you the well-known error message: “You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy”. Similar results can be expected when trying to access BBC iPlayer. The only success in reaching geo-limited content can be achieved when watching US YouTube content. The lack of Netflix and BBC iPlayer support could be attributed to the provider’s small number of servers.
TunnelBear review: Speed
TunnelBear connects to all servers without issues and with fast connection times. Download speeds vary depending on the location, with the closest servers obtaining the best results. As expected, latency increases with distance, accompanied by some inconsistencies.
TunnelBear review: Pricing
TunnelBear has a free account and two simple pricing plans - one-month and one-year. The free account features are extremely scanty - allowing only 500MB of traffic per month, just enough to test out the service. The one-month pricing plan costs $9.99, while the one-year plan is more affordable, billed at $4.99 per month.
You can pay via MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, while the annual subscription can also be paid for in Bitcoin.
TunnelBear doesn’t seem to offer any money-back guarantee, although the website states that “certain refund requests for subscription may be considered by TunnelBear on a case-by-case basis”.
TunnelBear review: Customer support
If you run into any problems while using the service or just have some questions, you can try browsing through the website’s help section. If that doesn’t give you the answers you needed, the next step is contacting customer support agents. You can do so by sending them a message with the basic description of the problem, affected location, and other details. You can expect an answer in a few hours. TunnelBear currently doesn’t have a live chat option. Since TunnelBear apps are rather basic, without many complicated features, they are all very simple to use and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get around.
TunnelBear has custom clients for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. It also has a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. The setup on all of those platforms is easy and straightforward. As for additional devices, the website provides instructions for using TunnelBear on Linux albeit with providing only limited support.
Having said that, you cannot install the service on e-readers, Windows mobile devices, smart TVs, gaming systems, nor can you manually configure your router. There aren’t any links for TunnelBear’s OpenVPN configuration files anywhere on the site either.
Should I buy TunnelBear?
TunnelBear is a much smaller VPN provider than most of its competitors, with a rather limited number of servers and locations in comparison. This may affect some of its features like support for geo-restricted services that have a much easier job blocking this platform than others. It doesn’t support many platforms and you cannot be sure you will get your money back if the service doesn’t work.
Having said that, TunnelBear isn’t overly expensive and offers military-grade security features, in addition to quality confirmed in an independent audit. If privacy is your top-most priority and you don’t require all those fancy features such as Netflix and custom protocol selection, TunnelBear will not disappoint you.