Home users often use “virtual private networks” (VPNs) to establish a secure Internet channel to an office network. Recently some home users have found another reason to use a VPN. Many wireless networks are not configured to encrypt any of their traffic, especially those in public such as hotels and coffee shops. Some people have begun using VPNs when connected, simply to encrypt the information that’s sent over the wireless network. Google even offers a free VPN service for anyone connected to Google’s citywide wifi network in Mountain View, California.
I’ve been worried about Internet security myself recently, so I started trying to set up my own VPN using the free OpenVPN software. My goal was simply to encrypt the traffic between my laptop and a computer I run on a wired network. This wouldn’t encrypt all my communications on the Internet backbone, but at least it would prevent snooping on wireless networks.
OpenVPN is designed to handle an incredibly wide variety of networks, and as a result it’s very difficult to configure to do something “simple” like this. I spent an hour reading instructions and generating encryption keys, but when I first tried to run the OpenVPN software on my MacBook, it crashed the computer. I quickly decided this wasn’t for me.
Instead I tried PureVPN, which was a low-cost VPN service open to the public. PureVPN is a pay-as-you-go service and offers a variety of inexpensive service plans. I paid $2.50 and received ten hours of VPN use. This would be a great deal—if the service worked as promised.
PureVPN doesn’t require any software beyond what’s built into Mac OS X or Windows. It was very easy to set up and when I tested it from home, it seemed to work fine. I confirmed that all of my Internet traffic was sent over the encrypted VPN, which ensured that I’d be protected from nosy neighbors. I tried it from a coffee shop once and it worked fine from there as well.
However, the real test occurred when I went on vacation in Las Vegas, Nevada. Away from home for a week, I wanted to use PureVPN over many insecure wireless networks—at hotels, at cafés, and at at my sister’s house. But when I got to Las Vegas, I found that PureVPN was down! It was down the entire week that I was gone, and only came back a few days after I returned home.
I hadn’t invested much money in my PureVPN subscription, so I haven’t contacted them about the downtime. At $2.50 I figure “you get what you pay for.” But unfortunately I can’t recommend PureVPN to anyone else, simply because I don’t trust I can rely on them when I need them.