AnchorFree Helps with Hotspot Security

By Eric Griffith

June 07, 2006

Another hosted VPN comes to secure your hotspot connection, but this one is Web-based -- and free.

It's no secret that there's a lot of unsecured Wi-Fi out there. But what is a company supposed to do when their whole reason for being is to point people to free (and almost always unsecured) public access hotspots — and those people are clamoring for secure connections?

AnchorFree's answer is called Hotspot Shield, a new free software download. Install it on a Windows 2000 or XP system (a Mac OS version is in the works) and you'll have a virtual private network (VPN) connection protecting all your wireless (or wired) traffic — whether you're on a free hotspot, paid hotspot, or even on your home or work network.

"We're layering on to secure sockets layer (SSL)," says Scott Lewis, co-founder of the directory of free hotspots acquired by AnchorFree in May. "There's a framework installed... for now, you access the site, turn on the VPN, and you're off and running securely."

Eventually — in the next two to four weeks — there will be a Windows System Tray icon showing the VPN status and letting users turn it on and off. "It's not ideal now, but still works, and we wanted to get it out so people would have the security as they get outside for the summer months," says Lewis.

This software puts AnchorFree into direct competition with established players like WiTopia's personalVPN, HotspotVPN and JiWire's one-year-old SpotLock software. All charge for the VPN connections they provide, and require installation of a utility on the computer. WiTopia and HotspotVPN support the Mac OS; HotspotVPN also handles Palm and Pocket PC handhelds. SpotLock's utility (Windows 2000 and XP only) doubles as a Windows WLAN connection manager and incorporates the JiWire hotspot directory.  

AnchorFree's big differentiator is the price of... nothing. (Google had a similar product for a while, but now only offers it to locals using its Mountain View, California network.)

Being Web-based is also "a huge selling point for our community," says Lewis. Security-wise, he says Hotspot Shield locks down the entire computer, not just Port 80 like some other VPNs. He claims the performance hit is negligible.

AnchorFree, which actually operates a handful of free hotspots in the San Francisco Bay area, has re-branded itself as the "world's largest free Wi-Fi network & community," because it has 10,000 free hotspots listed in its database. Offering Hotspot Shield — which makes no money for AnchorFree in this incarnation — is about making end users who become AnchorFree members happy.

"We're looking at it as building the user base for our community — and they scream for security," says Lewis. "We found a way to do it cheap and well — even better than our competitors. What we get out of it is that it's one more reason for users to come back to AnchorFree."

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