I’ve worked in the Networking industry for 10+ years, so I all too aware of just how easy it is for someone to steal your passwords, credit card information and other private data while on a public Wi-Fi network, yet even I myself will often just log on at a Starbucks, McDonald’s or the Airport to quickly check my email so I’m not using up my limited cellular data plan.
It is a bad and dangerous habit. In fact, just yesterday, Gizmodo published an article showing how disturbingly easy (and inexpensive) it is to make your own ‘spy computer’. For as little as $57 anyone can make a little black box that can “pick up all the wireless traffic emitted by every nearby wireless device, including smartphones.” Yikes!
So how do you protect yourself?
Well, obviously the simplest way is of course abstinence…just don’t log onto to public Wi-Fi networks. In reality however, that just isn’t feasible, In this always-on and connected world, many people’s jobs require them to be accessible even when out and about. Or perhaps you just want to connect with family, share an event, or look up some needed information. At some point the need (or desire) to be online will just be too great and security concerns will be ignored in favor of that quick internet fix.
That’s where Hotspot Shield VPN comes in. In essence it creates a secure pathway for all of your traffic to flow across, secure from any spying eyes. Now your data is both private and anonymous and you can have the peace of mind to do whatever financial, personal or business activities you need to.
Aside from the enhanced security, there are other added benefits as well. If the WiFi you are connected to blocks access to certain websites or services like Facebook and twitter. Or if you are traveling outside of the US and are unable to access Netflix or VOIP due to your location, there is no need to worry, because you will always have a US-based connection when going through the Hotspot Shield VPN. You also have an option of connecting to a UK-based server as well, opening up access to UK-restricted content as well. There are some settings to enable various levels of data compression to help reduce your data usage.
Setting up the service is as simple as just a couple of taps where it installs a security profile on your device and then a VPN service. By default it installs an ‘always on’ profile meaning that your device will always try to connect over the VPN. I switched this to the manual option so that I could turn it off and on at will from the ‘vpn’ option in the iOS settings app. While it doesn’t hurt to leave it on, I just preferred to have more control. Once it is enabled, you just use your phone like you normally would.
I didn’t notice any slow down in speed while connected to the VPN and I was able to watch streaming content and browse the web just fine. I was even able to stream video from the UK (over the UK VPN option) and it looks and sounded great. There have been a couple of minor hiccups, for example, It had a little bit of trouble switching to the UK VPN to watch the live Doctor Who announcement and for some reason I was disconnected from the VPN at one point when attempting to Facetime with my wife, not sure what happened there, but overall I have been quite pleased with the service thus far.
One note to Gmail users trying out the service, you will need to switch over to Google’s 2-Step Verification method to be able to use your Gmail or any other Google-login services while on the VPN. It is fairly painless and once setup you shouldn’t need to do it again. It is also much more secure and something you probably should be using…regardless.
The Hotspot Shield VPN app is free to download and you can try it out the service for free for 7 days. After that, both monthly and yearly plans for Hotspot Shield Elite VPN service are available at a rate of $4.99 and and $29.99 respectively. You can use the service on up to 5 of your iOS devices, PCs or Macs and will protect your 3G data as well.
I highly recommend at least taking the service for your free week-long test drive. It is nice to have that peace of mind and security that comes with having the Hotspot Shield VPN enabled while on public networks and the price for the service seems quite reasonable.