Too many feel that using public Wi-Fi, at a Starbucks for example, is going to be as safe an experience as when using one’s home network. Truth is that going online when you’re not home can be akin to mailing a postcard — you have no idea who could be looking. And it could be anyone. So since going without digital is the one thing you can’t do, trying to cobble together some form of VPN (virtual private network) system on your phone or laptop seems a safe bet. So for those interested in getting results, not headaches from trying to figure out how to use a VPN, there’s Firewalla.
Firewalla (get the name – firewall with a wink) can do a number of things, but first and foremost it’s a simple and effective system for letting you go online using Wi-Fi when you’re out and about. What it’s not is some kind of “cheating” to hide who you are and what you are doing — it’s not some kind of “dark web” device. Instead think of it as being in two places at once; at least as far as using your phone/tablet/laptop is concerned, it’s being used at home, even though you’re not.
So let’s start with the basics. Take the small, brick like Firewalla over to your router and connect its Ethernet cable between the two. Connect the power supply using either a USB socket on the router (if there is one) or the USB adapter going into a wall outlet. Then you download the Firewalla app (iOS/Apple or Android) and do a few registration and related things — none of which requires technical knowledge, so relax. The only real consideration is that your router is compatible, but most are and those that won’t work with the “auto mode” can be configured differently — requiring a bit more patience to configure, but again no great skill.
Now what you’ll be using is a separate VPN app — Firewalla goes into detail as to what to get for use and it’s far from complicated to operate. In fact it’s so simple to use that it WILL be used. Which is pretty much the whole point of Firewalla because if it’s not being used, there goes your safety. There’s also an app to let you do the same with a laptop (PC/Mac), so you’re not restricted to using a smartphone or tablet either.
What about speed of use — is the experience the same as if you weren’t using a VPN and Firewalla? There’s really no way to answer that because the Wi-Fi you are using, the traffic at the time on the Internet, so many variables play a part. But it’s realistic to say the the time spent using it will not be significantly increased, nor will you be tapping your foot and constantly looking at your watch (enjoy the cliches’) while using it — so a bit of patience will suffice.
Now should you be interested in gaining further knowledge about your home network and what is going on with it — the Firewalla app will oblige. It can show you bandwidth use and what those devices connected to it are up to (even letting you suspend connections). Security and activity alarms display who is trying to muck around in your system from outside, as well as what ports are open and what could be going on as a result (blocking rights here also). Plus there’s ad blockage and a Family mode that puts the breaks on bad stuff entering the network and a DDS button for having a static domain name for your home network.
All that is good, but the best is that you now can use your phone/tablet/laptop where there’s a public Wi-Fi, but you’re not actually doing that. What is happening is that you’re getting in touch with Firewalla and your home network, which then handles the online stuff you’re doing. Of course what is going on between where you are and where Firewalla is gets encrypted (protected). That’s not the case if you were just relying on the Wi-Fi of where you were. And while some contact is being made with Firewalla’s servers for some generic information, your data is not going through their servers, nor are they able to monitor anything that you are doing — which is kind of the whole reason you’re using Firewalla with a public Wi-Fi in the first place!
Privacy is important, but it’s not guaranteed every time you access public Wi-Fi. So no matter how convenient it might be, you need to take steps to protect yourself. Foregoing a dozen+ lattes will do more than just back off on caffeine, it’ll get you Firewalla (retail/$119.00) and the privacy you deserve.