Missed by both the mainstream media and tech writers yesterday was the downing of Astrill, one of the largest Virtual Private Network (VPN’s) on the planet via DDoS attack, a standard method for flooding online ICT Services. Out for several hours, its users started a serious backlash on social media with refunds being demanded. It’s interesting that the attack has come so close to the PRISM revelations, as a VPN effectively hides your activity on the Internet, including PRISM. By attacking Astrill, or any VPN, you force its users back onto the public internet.
This gave me an opportunity to rather quickly look at alternatives to Astrill, and I download a copy of PrivateWiFi. It’s a VPN service that is targeted at the public wifi user. It encrypts your traffic and spits it out at a node on the internet effectively hiding you from prying eyes, sinister or government.
I ran through tests using PrivateWiFi and Astrill (when it returned to service) to see the difference.
PrivateWiFi is pretty easy. You simply install it as an app on your desktop and click activate. It gives you some basic information and sits there happily in the background encrypting your data, at 128 bits (the same as your bank). You can also buy a phone only version, or tablet, that I thought was particularly good. The desktop version will cost you about $10 USD a month, you can get discounts, and it just works.
The mobile device version, sadly only available for Apple products at this stage, is data based. So you don’t have to pay a monthly fee, you just pay $1.99 / GB when you use it. I quite liked that option, and you’d be hard pressed to find a similar product on the market with that particular feature.
The tests I ran against it showed a reasonable throughput, about 25Mbs on a 100Mbs connection, and port scanning with PrivateWiFi on, and off, showed that it protected my local devices more than adequately. So the upside of this product really is ease of use (VPN’s can get complex), and it’s low cost.
If you put this against Astrill, which I pay $30 a month for (this includes a fixed IP address for $5) you start to get a feeling of you get what you pay for. Astrill has a much higher throughput as over 30Mbs per second. It also offers 256b encryption and it turns you into a ghost. When I ran port scan tests against an Astrill protected device, they simply failed. They couldn’t even see me, they just simply timed out. As far as they were concerned I was totally invisible. The downside to Astrill is that initially you need a geek to help you set it up.
So for $10 a month, and ease of use, plus the data only option of mobile devices, you can’t go past PrivateWiFi. If you want a premium VPN, you’re looking at Astrill at three times the price. When it’s working.
I expect that these services will be a constant target in the coming years given they hide an individual’s activity on the Internet.