Starbucks VPN Options for Wifi Security

VPNOn my previous “Starbucks” post I discussed how their recent move to free wifi for all has really helped raise awareness of surfing securely when using free wifi hotspots. In the end I encouraged the use of VPNs as the most effective countermeasure in stopping malicious snoopers. To follow up on this post, I wanted to put out a few VPN options you may want to consider.

(Note: As part of a campaign to bring forward some of our older posts that we feel still benefit the community, we’ve added this article to our Best Of category that will periodically get tweeted out. Please mention it to me on Twitter or contact us if there are any other posts you feel we should include in this category.Β This post was previously categorized under News. [email protected]grecs)

VPN options come in all shapes and sizes. If you have one through work, great! You get a solution that has typically been vetted and is maintained by the corporate security team. This option may work well if you are employed for a large company but workers for smaller organizations may not end up with such services or may actually be less secure as they may not have as good of an infrastructure team to maintain it. Additionally, you’ll have to deal with the same network filtering restrictions you have at the office. Of course the other option is to use a third-party service.

If you spend a lot of time in Starbucks, Panera Bread, or the Silver Dinner or if you travel a lot and log onto insecure hotel networks, then I would advise paying for one of the many inexpensive services out there. You typically purchase these services by the year but it usually works out to only $3 to $14 a month. Often, you not only get protection for your computer but also your smartphone.

The two services that I’ve been looking at for people that plan to use VPNs a lot are either the original HotSpotVPN or the newer WiTopia. HotSpotVPN seems to have been around a while and offers flexible payment options. Pricing starts around $90 per year and goes up to $140 depending on the VPN type and level of encryption. If you don’t want to go for the monthly or yearly plan, they even offer 1, 3, and 7 day options ranging from $4 to $7. WiTopia is the newer of the two and only offers yearly plans but at a deep discount compared to HotSpotVPN. They offer three plans at $40, $60, and $70 with a 30-day money back guarantee.

Both the HotSpotVPN and WiTopia top plans look pretty similar but that comes out to be price difference of $70 a year in WiTopia’s favor. Of course you don’t get the 1, 3, or 7 day HotSpotVPN options. The two companies have been snipping at each other over the past few years about who’s service is best and why HotSpotVPN is so much more expensive. Here is an article from March 2008 where the owners of each commented on CNET’s “More about VPNs: Price and Trust” post. Overall, both services have pros and cons and with some feature sets its like trying to compare apples and oranges … however I’m leaning a little more towards WiTopia.

If you are the type of person that will only be using Starbucks’ free wifi occasionally, then I would probably stick with one of the several free services and be a little cautious of your Internet use (e.g., no sensitive bank transfers). HotSpot Shield is one many of the recent articles recommend. They make their money by injecting ads into your browser session as you surf around. Sounds a little intrusive but they have to pay their bills somehow…

Of course if you are a super-1337 geek, there are many other “free” options to take advantage of. You could role your own using a wifi router that supports a VPN, building your own firewall/VPN server from an old computer, hacking a WRT54G, or using the old SSH trick through a web host or VPS provider. I quoted “free” because it may be free in terms of cost but not free in terms of the time you have to implement and support it yourself.

Personally I’ve done a little bit of both using a service and rolling my own. For years I ran the free Astaro UTM on an old computer and have used the SSH-trick through my web host provider. More recently though I’ve been leaning towards using the WiTopia service as I mentioned above.

Got any good or bad experiences with HotSpotVPN or WiTopia? Anyone have insight into what HotSpot Shield does with the data they can collect about you? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always Grecs here “… reminding you to help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered …” See ya!

22 comments for “Starbucks VPN Options for Wifi Security

  1. July 20, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Our preference is for OpenVPN (http://openvpn.net), but it dictates you host the server that you’ll be connecting to. That said, they provide the server as a VMWare Appliance making setup a snap. And, you can’t beat the price. (Free, for up to two concurrent connections)

  2. July 20, 2010 at 11:02 am

    I’m pretty sure HotSpotVPN and WiTopia are OpenVPN solutions except that you don’t have to host it yourself. I’ve heard OpenVPN can be hard to setup however I didn’t know of the VMWare Appliance. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. July 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Or zipline πŸ˜€
    cisco based IPSec VPN.

    Working this week on getting it working with android phones as well πŸ™‚

  4. July 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    @dan Good luck with your project. πŸ˜‰

  5. November 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Just came across https://www.getcloak.com/. “Cloak is a service for your Mac, iPhone, and iPad that keeps you safe from prying eyes on public wi-fi.” One-click VPN … 2 hours free a month, $8/month for up to 20G, or $15/month for up to 50G. I’m still a WiTopia fan but just another consideration.

  6. December 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    An article I found on recent updates to HotSpot Shield… Interesting spin on anonymizing traffic and bypassing censorship…

    Hotspot now shields you ad-free

    Better site-rendering speeds and an option to ditch ads called Elite have landed in the public Wi-Fi protector Hotspot Shield today. Published by the Mountain View-based AnchorFree, Inc., Hotspot Shield claims to be the world’s largest Virtual Private Network (VPN) with more than 10 million users. The Elite version gives upgraders multiple ad-free payment methods and plans, and offers site-load times that are “up to 100 percent faster” than the standard flavor of Hotspot Shield.

    http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-20112543-12/hotspot-now-shields-you-ad-free/

  7. January 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I use a VPN called VPN Authority.. They’re by far the cheapest ($5.30/month), with max security and fastest speeds.

    At least I use them and think they’ve been great so far. http://www.vpnauthority.com – worth checking out and trying their free trial since they have unlimited download and server switches unlike some other services.

    πŸ™‚

  8. January 11, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Thanks for the info Elianne. Witopia does offer a $40/yr plan so I wouldn’t necessarily call them the cheapest however I guess it depends on what you get… For the extra $25 maybe it’s better or more flexible in various ways. I’ll be sure to check them out…

  9. March 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    New article on recent release

    HotSpot Shield’s new shine not without blemish: HotSpot Shield’s new look and some under-the-hood changes make it easier to use, but it’s hardly the minimalist approach some may want.

    http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-57397732-12/hotspot-shields-new-shine-not-without-blemish/

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  17. January 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Here’s another recent option called Private Communications that I came across, specifically for your iOS or Android device. Plus it’s free for the first 500M each month.

    https://www.net-security.org/secworld.php?id=14202

  18. March 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm

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