Secure Surfing on Public Networks

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I sometimes find myself on public hotspots at a hotel or airport or what have you. And sometimes, the reason I’m online is because I have to pay a bill or do some other sort of business. I know that on an open network, I’m putting myself at risk and it always makes me really queasy and I’ve been wondering what the best way to handle it is.

So I just now came across Hotspot Shield by Anchor Free. It works by creating a VPN (virtual private network) that tunnels securely to their servers and then from there out onto the web. The idea is, basically, that everything that is travel across the unsecured, public network, gets encrypted and so the weak point is thus locked down.

Not bad. They tout all over that it’s “totally free”, which it is – it’s Ad Supported. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but there’s adware and there’s adware. In other words, Opera and Eudora were long ad-supported and all they did was show ads at the top of the application while you were using it. That’s fine with me and more or less like visiting a website with banner ads. You have to pay for stuff somehow. As long as it doesn’t install some ad server on my computer that runs in the background whether I’m actively using their product or not, I don’t mind (though I might like the option of paying a reasonable fee to upgrade to paid, ad-free version).

A bit more looking and I came across a bunch of other VPN clients and settles on Security KISS which is free if you keep usage to reasonable levels and works fine, but of course adding in this proxy and encryption will slow things down a fair bit.

Anyway, if you’ve tried it and have any info on what sort of ads it runs, I’d much appreciate it!

[update]
Okay, I did a bit more poking around and it looks legit.

  • PC Magazine lists it among their five favorite free security tools in 2008.
  • I looked around the anchor free site and it seems that the way they work is that by going through their platform, it allows advertisers to place ads on wifi hotspot login screens and on websites themselves. Basically, they have signup forums for both wifi providers and site publishers to opt in to running ads associated with their platform and then presumably they have a way for advertisers to put their stock on selected websites. For example, the page for web publishers says:

    Join thousands of premium web sites who are earning from AnchorFree’s patented technology that touches our in-transit audience…. Allow us to place contextually relevant advertising directly on your site to earn incremental revenue attributed to our multi-channel platform.

    So essentially, it’s similar to Google ads. Actually, a clever business model if I understand it correctly.

Anyway, it seems all relatively open and legitimate and definitely worth a few ads for the peace of mind it would give me when on an unsecured network. I’ll try it I think, but I would still really appreciate a comment from someone who can verify whether or not it will show popup ads on my computer or silly things like that.

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