Avast Secureline VPN
Watch a group of people arrive in just about any coffee shop or hotel and within seconds you will typically observe smartphones being produced like 21st century pocket watches, as their owners distractedly try to find a Wi-Fi network available for connection. Make this observation in an area with poor cellular network coverage and you may also notice looks of sheer panic if said Wi-Fi isn’t available. Constant connectivity is expected by social media addicts, news junkies and workaholics alike.
But the problem with hopping from one public wireless network to another to maintain this connectivity is that significant amounts of data transmitted can be “sniffed” (intercepted) by hackers or data thieves who are also freely available to connect to these networks. In other words, personal data such as usernames, passwords or address details could be readily accessed by individuals with the right technical knowledge – as testified by a steady stream of stories of data theft hacks in the press.
In the case of Wi-Fi, the most obvious answer to this security risk is to simply avoid connection to public wireless networks wherever possible. But for some individuals such as frequent travellers this simply isn’t realistic; for others it’s just painfully inconvenient. In order to maintain work productivity or simply ward off social media withdrawal symptoms, a more practical solution is use of encryption to protect network traffic.
Now, many websites involving access to particularly sensitive accounts such as online banking services already provide a layer of encryption through use of HTTPS connections (indicated by a green padlock symbol in a web browser address bar), but this protection only applies to HTTPS equipped sites. To truly protect our data we should aim to encrypt all of our network data. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) such as Avast Secureline VPN offer an increasingly cheap and convenient means for the casual user to achieve this level of security.
When using a VPN with a computer, tablet, or smartphone all of the data sent from the device is encrypted and passed over the internet to a server run by the VPN provider. This VPN server then unencrypts the data it receives from the device (e.g. a request to connect to an online store) and performs the plaintext action on behalf of it. In this example, responses from the online store are then sent back to the VPN server where they are encrypted before being sent back to the device.
Essentially, using a VPN service with a smartphone means that network data sent to and from the device should be secured and virtually useless to anyone sitting nearby intercepting traffic and trying to access data they shouldn’t be.
In choosing a VPN service provider there are a number of factors to bear in mind including device compatibility, ease of use, the security standard, connection speed, and data cost.
For smartphone data security the Avast SecureLine VPN service is available as an app for both Android and iOS operating systems at a relatively low cost ($2.99/ month or $19.99/year at time of writing), including a free 7 day trial period.
In testing the iOS variant of the app we found its ease of use to be a clear strength, with the VPN connection achieved via an effortless user interface. Upon opening the app you simply select a desired VPN server location (or select Optimal Location to achieve the best VPN speed), hit the connect button and achieve a secure data ‘tunnel’ between your device and the selected VPN server.
In practical terms this secure connection should mean that hackers are unable to view or steal any useable data, your web browsing will be anonymous, and your geo-location will be based on the IP address of the VPN server – meaning you can vary the apparent physical location of your device depending on which connection location you choose. The iOS variant of SecureLine VPN uses the IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) security protocol, which is generally regarded as being highly secure.
Do VPNs offer bulletproof connection security? Not necessarily; vulnerabilities can be found and exploited with VPNs as with most other technologies. For example, a recently exposed issue associated with the WebRTC (Web Real Time Communication) feature enabled on some web browsers, means that a user’s true IP address could potentially be revealed by sites using WebRTC. At time of writing the various VPN providers are investigating fixes to address this vulnerability but in the meantime the simple solution is to disable WebRTC in affected browsers. Further guidance from Avast! can be found here.
Notwithstanding potential vulnerabilities, VPNs offer an additional, easily actionable layer of security to protect device data passing over wireless networks and Avast SecureLine is among the fastest, most economical and easy to use we’ve tested.
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