Our TunnelBear VPN review found a company with a sense of humor that is “bearish” on the security of your Internet traffic and your online privacy. To this end, they have developed a secure VPN network. TunnelBear has custom apps for Windows, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS devices. This makes it easy for everyone to use their service from almost anywhere in the world.
Pricing and Special Offers
Tunnelbear offers both a free and a paid VPN service. They provide users 500 MB per month of free bandwidth. We feel that this bandwidth limit is not sufficient for regular VPN users and certainly not enough for those who might want to stream HD or better video content. Their paid service has no monthly bandwidth limitations.
Therefore, our TunnelBear VPN review focuses mainly on the features of their paid service. The paid service can be purchased in three different term length plans. These terms are monthly, annual, and 2-year. A single month of their service is priced at $9.99. However, TunnelBear offers a 58% discount if you purchase a 2-year subscription for $99.99. This means you can get 2 years of their service for just $4.17 per month.
No matter which plan you purchase, TunnelBear VPN offers the following benefits:
- OS support – TunnelBear has apps for all of your devices: Mac OS X, Windows, iOS, Android, and Chrome.
- Devices – You can connect up to five devices simultaneously.
- Encryption – Your data is protected using AES-256 with the OpenVPN, IKEv2, and IPSec VPN protocols.
- Technical support – You will have help whenever you need it, 24x7x365, via email.
- Locations – You can connect to servers in 20 different countries with unlimited bandwidth access.
- Tracker Blocking – Tunnelbear VPN blocks a variety of online trackers.
- Extra features – These include Vigilance, Auto tunnel, Always on, GhostBear, TCP override, and Trusted networks. We will examine these later on in our TunnelBear VPN review.
Paying for you TunnelBear VPN subscription is easy. They accept credit card payments using Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. For those who wish to try a more anonymous payment option, you can also pay for your subscription using the cypto-currency, Bitcoin. TunnelBear no longer accepts Paypal.
Free VPN Service
As we mentioned above, TunnelBear VPN offers a 500 MB free version of their service which does not provide access to Australia but has access to the other 19 countries in its server network. You can use this to verify that your devices work with their service before you decide to purchase it. Keep in mind that this service may not be as fast as their paid VPN due to server congestion. Unfortunately since they do not offer refunds, you may need to purchase a paid subscription to fully test their service speed.
TunnelBear VPN Network and Server Locations
TunnelBear VPN has a small but growing VPN network of servers which currently span 20 different countries. They have server locations in North, Central, and South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. These have been selected to provide their network with the most global coverage. These locations are as follows:
- North, Central, and South America
- Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the United States
- Hong Kong, India, Japan, Singapore
- Denmark, , France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom
These network server locations allow the TunnelBear VPN service to provide the greatest access to streaming media content. This means using their service will let you increase your online entertainment options. What is more important, you can watch this content from almost anywhere in the world.
TunnelBear VPN and Your Online Privacy
TunnelBear explicitly does NOT collect, store or log the following data:
IP addresses visiting our website
IP addresses upon service connection
DNS Queries while connected
Any information about the applications, services or websites our users use while connected to our Service
Unlike some services which say they are zero-logging, TunnelBear VPN says that they do collect and store minimal operational data. This data includes the following:
- OS version;
- TunnelBear VPN app version;
- Whether user was active for the month (0 or 1); and
- The total bandwidth used by month.
TunnelBear does NOT store users originating IP addresses when connected to our service and thus cannot identify users when provided IP addresses of our servers. Additionally, we cannot disclose information about the applications, services or websites our users consume while connected to our Services; as TunnelBear does NOT store this information.
TunnelBear VPN Security and Technical Support
All your Internet traffic is automatically encrypted using an AES-256 algorithm while you are using the TunnelBear VPN service. Weaker encryption is not even provided as an option. The protocols that their network utilizes are OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2. The table below illustrates how these are implemented for their various apps for different devices.
Mac OS X
|OpenVPN||AES-256-CBC||SHA-256||4096 bit DH group|
|iOS 9 and later||IKEv2/IPSec||AES-256-CBC||SHA-256||2048 bit DH group|
|iOS 8 and earlier||IPSec||AES-128-CBC||SHA-1||1548 bit DH group|
To understand a little more about the TunnelBear VPN security, it helps to understand the parts that comprise it. These consist of the following:
- Protocols – This is a set of rules governing the exchange or transmission of data between various devices. They utilize the OpenVPN, open source protocol for all but iOS devices. This is one of the best VPN protocols available today. TunnelBear VPN uses IKEv2 which is one of the fastest protocols for iOS and provides excellent security by means of IPsec.
- Data Encryption – The is the algorithm that is used to encrypt the data so that it can not be read by any third parties. It is used to protect all of your Internet traffic from prying eyes: be they ISPs, government, or rouge agents. TunnelBear VPN implements an AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) cipher with 256 bit strength and block chaining for the encryption of all your Internet traffic. This is the US government encryption standard for secret information.
- Data authentication – This is an algorithm which helps to guarantee the data sent has not been altered in any way from its original form. Data authentication is by SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) with 256 bits which is secure by most standards.
- Handshake – This is a series of protocols and key transfers which allows the devices to verify each other during their initial connection. This occurs before any encryption keys, connection protocols, or other information is passed between the devices. The TunnelBear VPN network connections use Diffie-Hellman key exchange with 4096 or 2048 bit strength which is considered very secure and provides for forward secrecy by regenerating connection keys for each connection.
Based on these parameters, it is easy to see that TunnelBear takes your online security seriously and has implemented their service using some of the best encryption technology available today.
You will also be glad to know that you will also be protected against DNS leaks as well. We tested TunnelBear VPN using both the basic and extended DNS leak tests at multiple network locations. The results for the Brazilian connection are typical of what we discovered and they show that only one server was found with an IP in Brazil. These results show that no DNS leaks were found.
Technical Support is available 24x7x365 by means of email. Turn-around times average about 24 hours. TunnelBear VPN also has a good informational and FAQ database on the help page of their website that can answer many of your technical questions. They also maintain a social media presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Their blog is a good source of information on new security features.
TunnelBear VPN Review: Hands-On Testing
Creating a TunnelBear VPN Account
To sign up for a paid subscription to the TunnelBear VPN service, just select the “Start Now” button. This will open the account setup page.
Subscribing to the TunnelBear VPN service is easy and requires only three steps:
- Choose your billing period.
- Enter your email address.
- Select your payment method and enter your payment information.
You will then receive a welcoming email from TunnelBear containing your account information and login credentials.
Downloading TunnelBear VPN Software
After you have signed up for an account, then you can download the appropriate TunnelBear VPN app to your device. First, select “Download” from the main menu of the their website. This will open the download page.
Select your device icon as Windows is chosen in this example. Next, click or tap the button below the map. For Windows and Mac OS X, this will start the download process for the TunnelBear VPN Client software. It will offer to run or save the software to your computer. We recommend that you save the software and then run it as an administrator to begin the install procedure. For the mobile software tapping the button will take you to the appropriate store where you can then complete the installation process for the app or extension.
The specifications to run the TunnelBear VPN software by OS platform and extensions are as follows:
- Android – 4.0.1 and up.
- iOS – iOS 8.0 and later.
- Mac OS X – 10.10 and later.
- Windows – 7 and above.
- Chrome extension – Browser 22+ on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Chrome OS
- Opera extension – Opera browser on Windows and Mac OS X
- Blocker – Free extension for Chrome which be used along with the VPN service on any devices that support the Chrome browser.
The TunnelBear VPN Windows Client
Windows Client Installation
After you have downloaded the Windows client software, run it as administrator to start the installation process to your machine. You may see a screen to install the Microsoft.Net Framework. If you do, then click the “Accept and Install” button to add it. Be aware this download will take a few minutes. Once the Framework has been installed you will see a the TunnelBear VPN TOS screen. Make sure these terms are acceptable to you. Then click on the “I agree” button to continue the client installation process.
After this process completes, you will see the verification screen. Enter the email address that you used to create your account and your password to login to the client for the first time. You will only have to reenter your login credentials if you logout of the client. Just exiting it will not require verification on restart.
Once you have finished logging in and your credentials have been accepted by the TunnelBear network, you will see a short intro to the Tunnelbear software which is shown below. You can either step through this slideshow or skip it. After the slideshow completes the main Dashboard for the TunnelBear VPN Windows client will load. This is shown on the right above.
Windows Client Settings
Before we look at Tunnelbear VPN in action, let us first take a look at its settings. These can be accessed by clicking on the gear icon to the left of the main dashboard. These setting are divided into four main categories:
- Start-up – This allows you to automatically start the client when you startup Windows. This along with VigilantBear ensures that you are always connected to the VPN when using the Internet.
- TCP override – This is used to connect using the TCP protocol instead of the default UDP. Only set if you are experiencing erratic connections (connections that drop intermittently). This sometimes occurs with long range and weak connections. Unlike UDP, TCP uses packet verification and could slow down your speed but it also helps stabilize your connection.
- Notifications – Decide for yourself if you want to be notified about general connection issues or unsecured networks.
- ViglantBear – This is the TunnelBear implementation of an Internet “Kill Switch”. If set and the VPN connection drops, then it will temporarily block your Internet access until the connection is reestablished. This will help guard your true IP address from being shown if the VPN drops.
- GhostBear – This will disguise your encrypted data and make it look more like regular Internet traffic. This could be good if you are being throttled by your ISP or to overcome censorship issues. Only set this if you need it as the extra overhead involved can slow down your connection speed.
- Trusted Networks
- Toggle on – Turn this on to whitelist networks to run without the VPN. Use the “Add to trusted networks” button to add a shown network to the whitelist. Any Wi-Fi network not whitelisted will automatically trigger TunnelBear VPN to activate.
- Manage account – List your account and lets you manage it from the webpage.
- Log out – Selecting this will log you out of the client and you will have to reenter your email address and password the next time you start the client.
- Help – This will open the TunnelBear VPN website help page in your browser.
- Check for updates – Check for latest version of client and let you install it.
- Send report – Send an issue to the technical support staff at Tunnelbear VPN regarding a comment or issue. It automatically sends connection data with it or you can export it to a file.
Using TunnelBear VPN for Windows
Now that we have looked at the settings for the TunnelBear VPN client, let us take a look at it in action. Connecting to the network is easy and can be done with only a click or two. There are three ways that you can connect to a server on the TunnelBear network. First you can just click on a location on the map as we have done for the United Kingdom below.
Select “Yes” in the resultant dialog box. That is all there is too it. You will be treated to an animation of a bear tunneling to you chosen virtual location. In a few seconds the bear will poke his head out of the basket at your selected country on the map. In addition to this the screen will fill with color and the toggle will be shown lighted in the on position. This makes it easy to see that you are protected by the TunnelBear VPN network with just a glance at the dashboard.
You can minimize the client to the task bar or maximize it to take up the entire screen if you wish to use the windows control icons in the upper right. Clicking on the X will minimize the client to the system tray if you are connected to a TunnelBear server. You can then disconnect or exit the client from there. Else, if you are not connected to a server, clicking the X will close the client software. Exiting from the system tray or closing the client will not require you to reenter your verification credentials on next startup.
The second way that you can connect to the TunnelBear VPN service is to choose auto from the server list. Use this if you just want privacy and not a particular country’s IP address. This will connect you to the fastest server in their network from your current location.
The final way to connect if you do not wish to scroll the map is to select a location from the dropdown server list. This makes it easy to switch servers between distant locations. This is illustrated by switching from a server in the United Kingdom to one in Australia.
As you can see, the TunnelBear Client for Windows is easy to install and use. All that is necessary is one or two clicks of your mouse and you can connect to any of their network servers. Protocol and encryption selections have been made for you. They have simplified the client settings so that very little technical knowledge is required to use their service while still including advanced features like auto-startup, a kill switch, stealth VPN mode, and trusted networks. In short, they have created a fun, easy to use interface for Windows users to be able to connect to their network and protect their online privacy.
TunnelBear for Mac OS X
The app for Mac OS is very similar to that for the Windows Client. It contains the same advanced features VigilantBear (kill switch), GhostBear (stealth mode), and trusted network whitelist to protect against unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It has the same look and feel of its Windows counterpart. One difference is that it requires the installation of a helper tool so that the software can return all of your internet settings back to normal state. You will need to enter your computer’s administrator password to allow TunnelBear to install this tool.
TunnelBear VPN for Android
Android App Installation and Startup
The Installation process for the TunnelBear VPN Android app starts by selecting the Android icon on their website download page. This will display the screen for the Android app download. From here, tap on the “Google play” button to go to the store to install the app. Once there, tap on the “Install” button and click through any messages that appear until the installation is finished. Tap on the “Open” button to open the app for the fist time.
Once the app opens it will display a screen to create an account. If you already have an account as we do, then tap on the “Log in” link. This will open the login screen where you can enter your email address and password used to create your account. After you have entered your credentials, tap the “Log in” button. You will then see a humorous welcoming screen. Tap on the “Get Tunneling!” button to open the main dashboard. The first time you start the app it will display with some helpful hints for turning the VPN connection on and changing virtual countries on the main dashboard.
Before we take a look at the TunnelBear VPN app in action, let us first examine the options. The options screen is accessed by tapping on the menu icon at the top-left of dashboard.
TunnelBear VPN for Android App Features
Some of these are humorous and add aesthetics to the app interface. Others have a more serious nature to help guard your online security and privacy. The aesthetic features include growling bear sounds on connections, vibration feedback, and wispy clouds floating across the interface map.
The more advanced security features include the following:
- Auto-connect to unsecured Wi-Fis – Setting this to on will help to guarantee that you are protected when relaxing at your favorite hot spot.
- GhostBear – The stealth-mode for TunnelBear VPN connections. It is used to conceal your VPN traffic from those who might want to throttle or censor it.
- VigiliantBear – This is a kill switch that will temporarily stop Internet access if the VPN connection drops until it is restored.
- SplitBear – This will let you choose applications installed on your device that you do not want to tunnel through the VPN.
- Trusted networks – Using this will let you create a whitelist of networks that you trust. Any network that you try to connect to not on this list will automatically cause the VPN to start.
TunnelBear VPN Android App in Action
You can connect to the TunnelBear network by tapping on a map location represented by one of the honey baskets. This will open a dialog asking if you want to create a tunnel to that location. Answering “Yes” will connect you to a VPN server in that country. The first time you connect to the TunnelBear network, the app will prompt you to allow permissions to establish the VPN service. Tap “OK” and the connection process will startup. You will see a cute animation of a bear digging from your current location to your chosen country where he will then peak out of the basket there and depending on your set options “roar” loudly.
Your virtual country can also be selected by tapping on the country last connected to at the bottom of the main dashboard. This will open a list of locations that you can connect to. At the top of this list is the “Auto” choice. Choosing this will connect you to the fasted country currently available from your location. In our case, it connected us to Canada although we are located in the United States.
If you select another virtual country while connected to the TunnelBear VPN network, the app will automatically disconnect you from your current server and reconnect you to the new one. Thus changing virtual locations from Canada to Japan required only a single tap. If you choose a location while disconnected from the network, then it will scroll the map and prompt you to connect to that location by tapping on a map location above. Toggling the connection switch is all that is necessary to disconnect from the network.
You can see that the TunnelBear VPN Android app is very easy to install and setup. It is very similar both in appearance and functionality to their other custom software. The interface is simple and well designed. This makes it easy for everyone to use their Android devices to connect to their network and create virtual addresses. Much of the technical details are handled behind the scenes. It does however include some advanced features like auto connection to unsecure Wi-Fis, a kill switch, and a stealth mode.
TunnelBear VPN for iOS
The TunnelBear app for iOS devices is similar in appearance and use to its Android counterpart. This makes it easy to connect using multiple device types. However it does not have a kill switch or stealth mode due to constraints imposed by the Apple OS.
TunnelBear VPN Speed Test
We were happy with the overall performance of the Tunnelbear VPN service. It performed admirably in our speed test to multiple server locations. You can see an example of its speed when using the VPN from the speed test below. As expected, there was some decrease in speed while connected to their VPN server due to the Internet traffic encryption. However, this was small for the TunnelBear VPN service.
As you can see from the images above, the Tunnelbear VPN encrypted connection lowered our base ISP download speed from 23.65 Mb/s to 22.24 Mb/s. This is a drop of just under 6% to a server in Toronto, ON which is close to that achieved by much larger services. Similar results were obtained when we checked other VPN locations on their network. Average drops were between the 5% and 10% range. This small connection speed loss is well worth the peace of mind provided by securing all of your online data. Additionally the VPN service adds the extra benefits of increasing you online entertainment options, protecting you from throttling by over zealous ISPs, and allowing to enjoy a more open Internet experience by thwarting censorship where present.
TunnelBear VPN Review Final Thoughts
TunnelBear VPN has been in the VPN industry since 2011. It was started by Ryan Dochuk and Daniel Kaldor and are headquartered in Toronto, Canada. Although they take a humorous approach at times, they are very serious about guarding your online privacy. You might even say they guard it “like a mother bear does her cubs”.
TunnelBear VPN has a simple but well designed website. They have developed professional software with a humorous side to make it easy for you to connect to and use their VPN service. This custom software covers Windows, Mac OS X, Android and iOS, with extensions for Chrome and Opera browsers. They also have a free tracker and malware blocker for the Chrome browser that you can use along with the VPN service to increase your security while surfing the Web. Their Windows, Mac OS X, and Android clients have a kill switch and a stealth mode to avoid censorship.
The TunnelBear VPN network is designed using some of the best encryption algorithms available today. It uses the OpenVPN protocol for Windows, Mac OS X, and Android. IKEv2 is used to connect iOS devices. All data encryption uses AES-256-CBC except iOS 8 and earlier which uses AES-128-CBC. Your data is securely authenticated to guard against changes to it from outside or so called “Man in the Middle Attacks”. Initial handshaking with the service uses proven Diffie-Hellman key exchange with 4096 or 2048 bit strength which is considered very secure and provides for forward secrecy for your sessions.
All of their custom apps are easy to install and use. Just a few clicks of your mouse or taps on your screen will have you connected to their network in seconds and safe from prying eyes. All of the interfaces for their custom software are similar which makes it easy for you to access it on multiple devices. They have an information and FAQ database to help answer some of your questions. The also have 24x7x365 email support and accounts on social media to help with any issues you may have. The one caveat to the TunnelBear VPN service is that they disable Torrent and P2P ports so they are not a good candidate for you if you seek a VPN which allows file sharing.
What we liked most about the service:
- TunnelBear VPN has clients for Windows, Mac OS X.
- They have mobile apps for iOS and Android.
- They have browser extensions for Chrome and Opera that can be used to protect data to and from your browser.
- TunnelBear has a free Chrome add on to block trackers.
- They offer a discount for their longer term plan.
- You can connect five devices simultaneously.
Ideas to improve the service:
- Add a guarantee for paid subscribers.
- Add more VPN locations; specifically in eastern Europe (Russian area) and Africa.
- Allow users to select the specific server location (city) when connecting to the VPN.
- Reinstate Paypal as a payment option.
Tunnelbear VPN may not have one of the largest VPN networks but the performance is right in line with other top providers. They have chosen their server locations to maximize the coverage while still maintaining a fast and responsive network. TunnelBear offers limited free usage that will let you test the compatibility of your devices with their service. Give their service a test drive and see what you think. You can sign up for a year of service to get the most for you money at just $4.17 per month.