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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder AlwaysVPN

You've heard about the Firesheep Firefox add-in that lets someone with virtually no hacking experience steal your identity when you visit a number of Web sites, including Facebook. Here's more bad news: Firesheep is far from the only privacy danger out there. There are plenty of powerful tools that hackers can use to steal private information from you not just specific Web sites, but wherever you are on the Web, or when you use other Internet services, such as client-based e-mail and instant messaging.

The for-pay AlwaysVPN does a great job of keeping you safe no matter what you do and where you go on the Internet. It uses Virtual Private Networking technology to encrypt all of your communications, and it's especially useful for those who connect at public Wi-Fi hot spots, where all communications are in the open and not encrypted.

The AlwaysVPN service uses its own version of the open source OpenVPN software as a client. When you sign up, you download a version of OpenVPN to which AlwaysVPN has made changes so that it works properly with the AlwaysVPN service. (If you already have the unflavored OpenVPN client, you'll need to download the AlwaysVPN version.) Unlike most for-pay VPN services, you don't have to pay a monthly or annual fee. Instead, you pay for the total amount of bandwidth you use. The starting point is $8.50 for 5GB of bandwidth, and range to 80 GB for $47 for more frequent users.

After you pay and install the software, you connect using the AlwaysVPN-customized OpenVPN client by right-clicking its icon. You can choose one of two modes--the AlwaysVPN-Compatible mode, which is more secure but slightly slower, or the AlwaysVPN mode, which is slightly less secure but faster. On Windows Vista and Windows 7, you should run the software as an administrator. When you're done using it, right click its icon in the taskbar and disconnect from the service to avoid paying more more bandwidth than you need.

You can also check how much bandwidth you've used for your account and how much remains by logging in to the AlwaysVPN site.

AlwaysVPN is inexpensive and simple to use, and given how easily information can be stolen these days online, it's the kind of service that literally anyone should consider. An alternative is the free Hotspot Shield VPN software and service. Although Hotspot Shield is free, it delivers ads, and you need to be careful during its installation that it doesn't make changes to your PC that you don't want. So if you don't mind spending a very little bit of money, AlwaysVPN is a great choice for your data's safety and your peace of mind.

Note: This link takes you to the vendor's site, where you must register to download the software. The options for buying AlwaysVPN bandwidth are 5GB for $8.50, 10GB for $15.00, 20GB for $26.00, 40GB for $33.00, 80GB for $47.00.

--Preston Gralla

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At a Glance
  • Protect yourself with a for-pay virtual private network.


    • Provides protection at any Internet service and site; Extremely easy to use; Affordable


    • You have to pay for it.
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