AnchorFree, the company that makes the popular Hotspot Shield application that secures mobile browsing activity, is bringing the app to iOS. Hotspot shield gained some acclaim this year during the revolutions of the Arab Spring by allowing users to create a private connection to the Internet. Users were able to skirt detection by officials that may have been monitoring mobile Internet activity.
Hotspot Shield works by creating a mobile virtual private network (VPN) that encrypts a Web session, turning HTTP into HTTPS. Hotspot Shield will also serve as a bandwidth compression service on iOS, cutting down on the amount of data that users consume. Create a VPN through an app anywhere with your iOS device? There is sure to be a market for that.
There are multiple things to like about Hotspot Shield though the biggest advantage the company has is the ability to tout a "VPN anywhere" service. Mobile users do not often think about the network they are on. That can be dangerous, especially if you are on an unsecured WiFi connection. Think about it: you go into Starbucks, get your latte and sit down and connect to the free Internet. You feel like checking your bank account balance with your iPad or iPhone to see if you want to go do some shopping the rest of the day. Anybody sniffing that WiFi can then get your banking password. This is not some far-fetched scenario that is not going to happen to you. There have been instances of malicious hackers in large cities moving into apartments above coffee shops with free WiFi for the express purpose of sniffing the WiFi and all the user activity that happens there.
To a certain extent, this is what Lookout was trying to do with its recent iOS security app. It was not trying to set up a VPN the way AnchorFree does with Hotspot Shield but rather warn users when they are on unsecure networks with a notification warning. It does not really matter what device you are using, if you are connecting to an unsecure WiFi network, your information is in jeopardy.
Outside of the security and data theft angle, there is privacy to worry about as well. Users do not want to be spied on, even if that information is not directly going to be used against them. Often in the Arab Spring situations, that information was going to be used against the revolutionaries and activists, but in general people do not like to be tracked. The ability to turn any site visited through an iOS device into an encrypted HTTPS connection is a powerful tool. HTTPS is not impossible to crack, but it is very difficult, making it one of the most secure connections that a consumer can use.
iOS does give users a default option for private browsing, but that is tied to accepting cookies in the browser, not an HTTPS connection. There are a variety of enterprise-grade solutions that can create a VPN from almost anywhere, but AnchorFree is aimed at the consumer side of the equation, not the enterprise. Enterprise IT departments require granular control than what Hotspot Shield for iOS grants them.
iDevice users - Is this the type of app that you would use on a daily basis? It is the type of thing that is better to have in case you want it than not have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.