Take Along Security—A Portable Firewall And VPN Server

Scenario

Today you need a break from the office and decide to grab your laptop and head to the local coffee shop. Internet connectivity is readily available there via public wi-fi, and you can work as if you are sitting at your office desk. After grabbing a fresh cup of brew, you open your laptop, log in, and begin surfing the Internet. First, you check GMAIL, Facebook, Twitter, and few other social sites before getting down to the “real” work. Two hours pass quickly, and you are pleased with the work accomplished.

During this time, you sent an email to one of your customers discussing a confidential conversation you had last week, logged into the office server to download a needed spreadsheet, occasionally posted and responded to posts on Facebook, sent follow-up emails to potential customers, corresponded with your partner about significant problems an important client was experiencing, etc. You completed much work in your comfortable “second office”, in fact, this setup works so well you do it often.

A Huge Problem Here

The above scenario describes many, as it is commonplace to stop by the local coffee shop during the day to grab a cup and do a little work. What may not be commonplace is understanding the online risk that this scenario creates. Let’s simplify things—this is a huge online exposure risk.

Yes, there is a significant online risk here. Open free wi-fi, such as is provided in public places, is essentially an open network, shared by anyone. Implications are that everyone around that’s connected via this wi-fi is using the same connection. Security wise, all traffic that takes place via this connection has an exposure risk. Unless one adds a layer of safety, all network traffic can be snooped upon or captured. Things like stealing passwords or data are possible, even more, nefarious opportunities exist such as infecting machines with malware or taking control of computers via known exploits. Why do people risk online security in places like this? Because of its convenience and a failure to understand risk.

A Solution To The Risk

The solution to this risk is relatively simple; one can easily add a robust security layer, such as a VPN (virtual private network).  A VPN encrypts the traffic from one computer to the VPN server preventing anyone else on the shared connection from being able to snoop on any online activity. Exactly what’s needed in the coffee shop scenario. There are all kinds of VPN solutions available, in fact, we did a podcast a while ago on VPN solutions.

In addition to the VPN solutions we previously mentioned, here is a unique VPN solution, called BlackHoleCloud (BHC). BHC is a device based VPN, in which you get your very own private hardened VPN server, along with a tiny hardware firewall endpoint. All traffic that leaves and returns to your computer will be encrypted (256 bit AES OpenVPN connection) and protected. In other words, it is a portable VPN and firewall solution that you carry with you for use when connected to open free connections.

Why BlackHoleCloud?

The main reason is the portability of the device. As shown below, either model is small.

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Also, instead of having to log in on several devices to create a VPN connection, the BHC automates this process for all devices. In other words, an iPad, phone, laptop, etc. can all be connected to the BHC without having to do individual device logins or installing anything. Additionally, the BHC is a firewall that will always drop all unsolicited incoming packets, providing another layer of security. In fact, as long as you are using the BHC, you are invisible to the public wi-fi network.

On a more geeky note, for those that want extra protection, BHC also provides a stunnel option that prevents deep packet inspection. Stunneling is considered by some to be a security overkill, yet by others, a best practice. You can decide.

Additional Uses of BlackHoleCloud

In addition to providing a robust security layer at the coffee shop, aka, your second office, this portable device can ensure safety in individual cases like protecting a particular computer in your office. It may be that you have one computer that accesses customer data, medical data, tax data, banking data, etc. where you want additional peace of mind that security best practices are followed, thereby reducing online risks. Also, for those of you that often travel and spend time in airports and hotels, you will gain security while reducing risks when using it. Good news for you travel warriors.

For more information on BHC, check here. Several service options are available here, and for a limited time, using the discount code “shoestring”, will give a 15% discount off the top of the first month’s fee.

What scenarios do you envision for the BlackHoleCloud? What other security layers do you recommend? How do you protect yourself when using a public wi-fi connection? Please share below in the comments area.

Resources

Tech Tip Podcast Episode 12: Don’t Trust That Wifi!
What we give away when we log on to a public Wi-Fi network