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Virtual networks: way to go?

tech reviews Updated: May 22, 2012 00:30 IST
Gagandeep Singh Sapra
Gagandeep Singh Sapra
Hindustan Times
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Last week saw a major emotional outbreak in the virtual world as Internet service providers (ISPs) started blocking sites such as Pastebin.com (an online text-sharing site used by programmers) and Vimeo.com, which is a video site similar to YouTube.

The sites were blocked on account of a court order to ISPs to ban websites that allegedly help transfer of pirated content. Based on the understanding of ISPs’ technical teams, random websites stopped working in different areas.

Many of these sites don’t make any difference to the majority, but for techies like this writer, Pastebin is an essential part of life, for sharing programming codes with friends.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/5/22_05_12-buss27b.jpg

The situation spawned a sudden interest in VPNs, or virtual private networks, because they help you get around blockades of the kind Vimeo is facing.
Can it be used in this situation? Who can get one? What are the costs, are free VPNs available, how can one set it up? We try to answer these questions to help you break such blockades — assuming, ofcourse, that you will not use the technology for illegal or improper activity.

How does VPN work?
A VPN allows you to use another network virtually, over the Internet like a tunnel carved out of a mountain. VPNs started out as a way for corporations to allow specific resource access to employees and partners, but it has grown out of recognition.
Today, apart from corporates, VPNs are used by private groups for such varied purposes as accessing content from sites banned in your reigon, to getting secure access to content, to masking your own location while accessing a website, to sharing content with a limited group — all while providing a virtual firewall that keeps others from accessing your file movement. Depending on the policy of the VPN provider, though, some sites that are deemed dangerous may still be blocked.

Free VPN providers
Sites such as www.proxpn.com, www.gpass1.com and www.cyberghostvpn.com allow free access to their VPN. Visit the site to sign up, following a simple procedure such as sharing your email and other details. Download the client, and you are set to go.
Gpass1 and CyberbhostVPN are available only for Windows, while ProxPN has recently launched a Beta version of an Apple Mac client also.
In case you don’t want to sign up for a VPN, but still want to visit a blocked site, or see what a site looks like without revealing your identity, they have web-based tools that let you do this.
There are many more options, but these three sites are stable. There may be issues of speed, and some sites such as Torrents and P2Ps may still be out of bounds, but if you are just looking to access a site securely, or to access something that is not allowed as per Big Brother policy, these sites are okay. But if security and speed matter a lot, pay-to-use VPNs are the way to go.

Paid VPNs
Most service providers offer a trial before you buy a plan. There is even a unique freemium player — www.privatetunnel.com — which is free for the first 100 MB of data transfer and payable beyond this. PrivateTunnel supports OpenVPN, and is available for Mac OS Apple and Windows, as well as the iPad and the iPhone.
Among pure pay-to-use operators, who provide fast speed, a secure network and 24x7 support, recommended sites are StrongVPN (www.strongvpn.com) and HideMyAss — HMA (www.hidemyass.com). Both provide Mac, Windows and Linux Clients, while Strongvpn also has an iPad/iPhone client. HMA too offers a basic service for the iPad.

StrongVPN starts at $7 (R375) a month, ranging up to $30 (R1,600). They usually require you to pay for 3 months up-front, and give discounts for advance payment. HMA charges $11.52 (R617) per month, and goes as low as $6.55 (R351) per month if you pay in advance for the full year.

StrongVPN’s customer service seems better than HMA, but in parallel tests to access Websites using them, HMA came through as faster.
Whether you are looking at a VPN from a security point of view, or would like to access a site that is not available in Indialike Netflix.com for movies, or Pandora.com for Internet radio, or just simply don’t like the authorities playing Net Nanny, get yourself a VPN connection.

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