It is an all too common occurrence. Someone buys a coffee and ask what's the WiFi password; another person gets into an airline lounge and connect to the WiFi network for some entertainment before a flight - or perhaps even work. Or just check into a hotel and connect to the in-room WiFi or ethernet service. Or simply use one of the many city-wide WiFi services available.
What many won't know is that it is quite trivial these days for some Bad Guy (TM) to snoop on data traffic within the same network and collect tons of information - emails that go to and from unsecure servers, non-encrypted cookies (those small text files browsers use to store state and some websites use to manage sessions) and more. Hijacking someone's user session on a popular website can be as easy as installing Firesheep, a Firefox add-on that displays in real-time data that is going across the networks, allowing the user to click on a name and start impersonating that user.
A way around this is by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN), a software-based network that encrypts the data traffic between your computer and a server, where that data then is then unencrypted and passed to the Internet. This means people can see there's some data traffic between your computer and a server, but no one on the same network as your computer can actually see what that data means.
There are many VPN providers around but most cash in the georestrictions market - users connect to some VPN server in another country to appear to be in this other region so digital content can be downloaded or streamed. Some of the VPN providers are quite large but there aren't much information about the companies thesmelves. And this can be ok for the georestriction market but is a completely different story when it comes to trust and privacy.
Symantec created a new offering that targets exactly the people who are looking for a privacy service - not a georestriction unblocker - from a well known company, with a clear privacy and trust policy.
Norton WiFi Privacy is available across all main platforms around - Windows, macOS, iPhone and Android devices. Licenses can be purchased for one, three or five devices and can also be bundled up with the company's main offering, Norton Security. The main point here though is that traffic is not limited, which means you can have your smartphone or tablet connected all the time, as well as using it on your laptop.
The operation is pretty similar in all those platforms. You install the software and set it to always connect if unsecure network is detected. You can opt for manual connection too. You can let it automatically select the best server for your connection, from a long list that covers many regions: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States. By selecting the country closest to your current location you get better speeds overall and reduced latency.
The application running on a Windows machine is pretty similar, although I think the framework used for the application development could be a bit better - toggling the options to Launch at startup and Autoconnect seem to be ignored at the moment and the application doesn't have a "Check for update" option.
In either case (mobile or desktop), Norton WiFi Privacy offers an option to block advertising tracking cookies - a nice touch for the software and makes sense if you think that it is one less thing you need to think about when minding your privacy.
Unfortunately for us there isn't a New Zealand server yet - this would be great in our country, seeing the state of broadband is pretty good with fast fibre connections and peering options, which would make the VPN even faster. But dispair not, the Australian servers are still good enough and the impact in browsing speeds and emails is really minimal, especially when using on a mobile device.
Reallity is deceiving though as I tested speeds to a speedtest server outside my ISP (but in Auckland) with and without the VPN. My test connection was using my laptop connected over WiFi, which means that even at home on a non-congested network I wouldn't expect to reach the 1 Gpbs my fibre provides (but I will give a wired connection speed for comparison). So here it goes: a direct connection (non VPN, WiFi) gave me 226 Mbps down and 140 Mbps up. The Norton WiFi Privacy connection gave me 25 Mbps up and 25 Mbps down. For comparison, a wired connection (ethernet) to the same non-ISP server gave me 450 Mbps down, 400 Mbps up.
In my case I have two VPNs I can use at any time and I switch between them depending on where I am: in New Zealand I use my router's own VPN server. I do this because with a gigabit connection at home the latency impact is minimal. But while overseas I like Norton WiFi Privacy as it gives me local otions in the places I visit most (Australia and the USA).
I understand not everyone or company will configure their own VPN so in those cases I recommend using Norton WiFi Privacy as the go-to VPN option at the top of the list.