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Hands on with Norton Secure VPN – protecting free public Wi-Fi users

The odds are good that you’ve heard of VPNs. While most media coverage revolves around VPNs, or virtual private networks, as a tool for hiding dodgy online activities, they’re also a useful way of keeping your personal and financial information out of the hands of others.

VPNs were originally used as a means of providing encrypted end-to-end connections for corporate workers, providing secure access to corporate data when working offsite.

In non-geek speak, a VPN is an encrypted conduit that allows users to send and receive data securely. Because the data is encrypted, it is gibberish to any potential eavesdroppers. Handily, this also means that the data of other users with non-encrypted connections is an easier target for snoopers.

The crazy thing is that many of us are unwittingly oversharing our personal and financial data without even realising it. As convenient as public Wi-Fi in a hotel, airport or shopping mall seems, most of us are blissfully unaware of the real risks involved.

Putting this to the test, I downloaded a copy of Wireshark – a Wi-Fi network diagnostic utility that can scan Wi-Fi traffic. I was shocked to see just how easy it was to view the online activities of fellow shopping mall guests. A tonne of sensitive information – addresses, bank accounts, credit card numbers, IRD codes – was all visible. All that was needed to see this info was a few freely available utilities and a little bit of knowledge that easily obtainable via Google. A less honest person could create chaos.

That is unless a VPN such as Symantec’s Norton Secure VPN gets used. Available for Android, Windows, MacOS and iOS, it sits in the background and scans your Wi-Fi connections. Once it detects that you’re using an unencrypted Wi-Fi connection, it redirects your data over a VPN, making your online activities significantly more difficult to snoop.

So how good is it? There are VPNs, and then there are VPNs. Many say they’re free but most cost. Your mileage can vary widely. Paid VPNs tend to be faster than the free ones, and those that don’t cost often come with a catch, such as injecting adverts into your browsing or using your device as a hub to route other VPN traffic over (which can also blow mobile data allowances to bits). Many paid services also throttle data. Thankfully, none of these caveats applies with Norton Secure VPN.

So, do you need Secure VPN? That most public Wi-Fi networks are not encrypted means others on the same network with the right know-how can easily eavesdrop to capture passwords, emails, and financial information sent while you’re connected so if you’re a frequent user of public Wi-Fi, installing a VPN like the Symantec offering makes a considerable amount of good sense.

It costs $69.99 a year, which covers five licenses so you can install it on your tablets, smartphones and PCs.

While Norton Secure VPN won’t mask peer to peer traffic, the addition of a New Zealand node for VPN traffic means that the small amount of latency noticeable with earlier versions is barely noticeable in this version.

So, Is it worth it? At $69.99 a year for five devices, it is a godsend to people who do a lot of sensitive stuff such as banking or correspondence over public Wi-Fi. While you could avoid public Wi-Fi and use your mobile data to access the internet, the annual subscription is probably going to be a far more cost-effective option than the mobile data you’d most likely use.

Witchdoctor