Since I travel once in a while for my job I find myself in locations where a secure network can’t be ensured. My phone does have tethering software on it so I often use it but it’s slow and has issues getting disconnected at random intervals.
Thankfully this day and age wireless networks are everywhere. Hotels, Starbucks, airports, etc. But these networks are not secure and should be considered hostile at all time. This was the reason I looked into the previously mentioned Wi-Fi device that could connect to 3G cellular data networks. Of course as I previously stated they wanted a contract and honestly the devices are far more expensive than I could justify since I only really need such a device a few times a year.
That meant either continue using my unreliable phone tethering or use hostile wireless networks. Hostile wireless networks can be used securely though through a protocol called Virtual Private Networking (VPN). VPN is a mechanism where you connect to a remote VPN server. The VPN server acts as a proxy which all your traffic is sent to and from there is sent to its actual destination on the Internet. The key here is all VPN traffic is encrypted so other people on the same network can’t see what you’re doing. So even if you’re connected to an insecure wireless network you can encrypt all your traffic by sending it through a VPN connection.
Most companies that send people around the country provide a VPN connection for their employees. Mine is no exception but I thought I’d try an experiment and see what solutions I could find for those traveling and not having a company provided VPN service available to them.
The easiest, cheapest, and most secure (In the form of privacy of your traffic) method of using a VPN is to set a server up at your home. This way you can remotely connect to your home network through the VPN. Unfortunately for me this is impossible since I live in an apartment complex that also provides me service as an ISP (It’s free so I don’t argue). The downside is this ISP also routes all my traffic through their firewall meaning I can’t actually connect to any of my computers there remotely. Due to this fact I decided to look at using Amazon’s EC2 service to setup a VPN server. Overall it would be a good idea but it’s kind of pricey since Amazon charges you for the number of hours your EC2 instance is running.
Finally I looked into a service mentioned by Leo Laporte on This Week in Tech quite a few times call HotSpot VPN. HotSpot VPN is simply a service that sells VPN connections. It’s not a secure as using a server setup at your home since all your traffic does get routed through their VPN server. But it’s a damned side better than being on an insecure network since HotSpot VPN as a reason to maintain your privacy, money (Granted that’s absolutely no guarantee and in the security business the phrase is trust no one. But security is also a balance between having secure systems and convince.).
What I like about HotSpot VPN is you can but a yearly subscription, monthly subscription, or a few days worth if you only travel sporadically like me. For this test I bought a three day pass for something around $5.88. That’s pretty cheap and well worth it in my book. Setup in Mac OS is simple (I’m not sure about other operating systems since I’ve not done much with VPNs in them) and requires you only enter your e-mail address for the user name and the password they e-mail you. It’s working great on this hotel wireless network and isn’t dropping my connection constantly like my phone does. I tested it on my home network before taking it out into a hostile environment and the data is encrypted so other people listening on the network aren’t going to be able to see what you’re doing it. Speed is so-so since all your data has to go to their servers and then to its destination but tethering my phone always yields even slower connections.
Overall I think it’s a good service for those who travel, don’t have a company provided VPN connection, and are unable to setup a VPN server at their home. There isn’t much else to say about it since it’s a pretty straight forward service that performs and straight forward feature.
Also since this is a review I need to give the FCC required disclaimer. The FCC can go sodomize itself with a retractable baton. That is all.