Easy to set up, works in Australia
Having just spent a week listening to the best minds in information security talk about how grim the threat landscape is at RSA Conference, it’s easy to be paranoid about the online world. Security company F-Secure has just released a 60-trial of its new VP product Freedome.
What’s a VPN?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, connects computers via the internet through software that makes it seem that the computers are directly connected to each other with a physical cable. In a VPN the data transferred between the computers is in encrypted so only the computers on either end of the virtual connection can understand the communication.
VPN services allow you to connect securely to a remote computer that filters and/or what is sent to your computer. VPNs have received a lot of recent attention. If the computer you securely connect to is in another country, it can look as if your computer is in that country.
For example, if you connect your computer to a VPN service in the US, if will look as if your computer is in the US.
Starting with Freedome
Once we installed the application – it requires an administrative account to set up – we were ready to secure our connection. The main configuration options are whether the application is active or not, and choosing which country you want your computer to connect to the internet through.
Once active, all internet traffic is routed through the service. That can slow down your conenction.
That’s why we’d only use Freedome, or any VPN service, when connected to an open network such as in a coffee shop or airport. There’s no need to use a VPN on a safe network unless you’re trying to mask your location.
Freedome monitors three things when it’s running: the volume of traffic going through the connection, the number of harmful sites blocked and how many tracking attempts it blocks. The first two metrics are self-explanatory. The third is about protecting you from hackers, advertisers and data tracking companies.
Our first test using Freedome was at San Francisco airport using the free Wi-Fi. We were able to save documents to Dropbox, browse the web, collect and send email and use messaging apps. If there was any impact on performance we didn’t notice it.
We ran Speedtest on our connection. It’s important to note Speedtest is only a reflection of connection to a specific test server at a point in time. Spot results are useful relative indicators. So, rather than looking at the absolute numbers in our tests, what’s important is the overall picture as to what impact Freedome has on connection performance.
With Freedome active using a connection F-Secure’s West Coast VPN servers, we recorded download speeds averaging around 5 Mbps and uploads clocked at about half that speed. When we turned Freedome’s protection off, we were surprised to find upload and download speeds were consistent at 3 Mbps.
It’s worth noting that we did run the tests multiple times at San Francisco and the first test we did delivered a whopping 9.32 Mbps for downloads, driving the average up in our three tests. Excluding that exceptional result brings the average to around 4 Mbps.
Carrying out the same tests from LAX on a much faster network, Speedtest revealed downloads at 20 Mbps and uploads of 16 Mbps with Freedome enabled. When we turned Freedome off, download performance increased by around 25 percent to 24 Mbps. Upload performance almost tripled.
At home, we conducted a test at our local McDonald’s on its open WiFi. F-Secure has a point of presence in Melbourne. That’s important when looking at VPN software as some don’t have servers in Australia. As a result, performance can be degraded to the point of becoming unusable.
Without Freedome activated, we were able to achieve connections of 4 Mbps and 0.4 Mbps for download and upload respectively. That fell to 3.3 Mbps and 0.3 Mbps with the VPN activated.
Using a VPN service can make a significant difference to your threat profile when connected to open, unsecured networks. It’s important to understand that all VPN services will have an impact on network performance and, at any point in time, the VPN service is just one of several factors that can impact network performance.
Our testing found Freedome slowed performance. However, on a fast connection, that impact is less noticeable.
What it comes to is whether you’re prepared to trade performance for safety. You can make a car faster by removing parts to make it lighter. But you might compromise safety. The same goes with your internet access. You can make it safer, but that means adding something.
In our view, Freedome is a solid solution. Although it’s still officially in beta it works reliably and protected our connection on open networks.