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GadgetTell Review: iTwin Connect Personal VPN

Sections: Accessories, Communications, Computers, Hardware, Mobile, Networking, Reviews, Security

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Every other week, one can read articles about the most recent technology-related security risks and how one can suffer from the lack of protection. Some solutions involve adjusting privacy settings. Others suggest having the proper software or hardware coverage installed.

But what about all these free wireless networks that are popping up everywhere? We’re not just talking about airports, hotels, and coffee shops anymore. More and more businesses are realizing the benefits of providing customers free WiFi, and we’re taking it, of course.

Stores like Safeway, Macy’s, and even local brew houses and pubs are giving away free WiFi. It’s all very tempting (and useful!), but at the same time you never know who might be snooping on networks anytime, anywhere.

There are ways to set up secure connections or even personal VPNs. But not everyone has the willingness or hardware to set those up in advance. Add ‘patience’ as a requirement, and watch how quickly people lose interest in what you’re talking about. If you’re like me, and want to have reliable internet privacy that is quick, easy, and versatile, the iTwin Connect should be the next thing you get.

Setup

The iTwin Connect looks basic and is simple. Really simple. You have two USB devices that connect and work with each other to encrypt online activity. They’re identical, so it does not matter which gets plugged where.

iTwin Connect USB

iTwin ready for install

Plug the connected set into a computer, and marvel how the setup and installation completes itself in about two minutes. The packaging states you can be ready in 60 seconds, but it’s actually more like two to three minutes. But who’s counting?

The iTwin Connect gets recognized as a USB storage device as well as a network adapter. Just follow the prompts and then you’re done. If you have questions or need something to read, the manual is available online.

The only user input, which can be changed later on, is the naming of the device and setting a password. If we’re talking about protection, why not set a password, right?

Firmware updates and installations are downloaded through the internet, leaving very little for one to do other than use it and enjoy. The updates are pretty frequent too, which is always a good thing.

Once the iTwin Connect is installed on the host/home computer, you leave the one half plugged in while the other stays with you for when you need it. The included carry case lets you attach it to your keys so you can always have it with you.

Using iTwin Connect

When I’m out and about and want to take advantage of free WiFi, I stick the second half of the iTwin into the laptop I have with me. Or the laptop my friend or wife has. It does not matter whose, which is part of the beauty. Once the iTwin Connect initializes and receives the password I set, then it’s good to go.

The tray icon changes to lets you know you’re connected and also provides the features to activate. You can ‘Teleport’ (tunnel) to a regional server (US, EU, or Singapore) or your host/home PC for a secure connection. All the data and information is encrypted through the iTwin, making it totally private. You can look up your own IP address and see that it’s changed to whatever is under the server you’re connected to.

The iTwin Connect lets you open remote files and remote desktop as well. The cool part is that it works both ways. When I am out and mobile, I can connect to my host/home PC via remote desktop and control that computer as if I were sitting there. If I am home and my wife happens to be out, using the iTwin on her laptop, I get to remote desktop and mess around with what she’s doing. Sure, there is a four- to eight-second delay, but it gives me the opportunity to manage things until she decides to kill the connection (haha). A window pops up to provide the iTwin remote control, so you still have all other tabs and programs running and accessible.

iTwin Connect USB half

iTwin Connect separated in two

I’ve tried playing games like that, just for kicks. FYI, it doesn’t work too well for just about anything that isn’t simple and turn-based. But then that might be asking for too much.

The ability to transfer files with the Remote Files feature is handy. One might argue that Dropbox does the same thing, except that iTwin Connect is going to be far more secure and private than Dropbox. You have to set the folders and permissions ahead of time for the Remote Files, but once that is in place you’re done and can transfer files easy. While I’ve only used it for unimportant things so far (music, video, photos, etc.), the secure file transferring would be ideal for someone who wanted to work from home. You can stay connected with your office computer and files without worrying about security.

Internet Speed

Connection speed through the iTwin Connect is probably the biggest weakness. When you Teleport to another server, your internet connection speed is going to take a significant hit. There are a number of servers that you can connect to, but there is no way to specify individual ones. You just connect and get what you get. I’ve recently teleported to Michigan, Tennessee, and California, and my speeds were different each time. It’ll be slower during peak hours, especially.

I used SpeedTest.net to check out how my connections were affected. My ping skyrocketed 10x while my upload and download speeds were halved, typically. For browsing, it wasn’t that big of a deal and I could only slightly tell I had to wait a little longer for pages to load. I did run across issues when it came to downloading files or streaming video. Sometimes pages would lag out, video would stop, or the internet connection would completely choke.

A few times, I felt like I Teleported myself back to the days of angry dial-up modems. But without the noise.

Connection & Security

The iTwin Connect settings (name and password) are only as good as the most recent installation. Installing the connected pieces to one computer and then another one doesn’t save individual information for each. The encryption is shared between both pieces, and new random encryption is set with each new installation.

iTwin Connect case

Keychain case keeps it secure

Users have the option to create a disable code, just in case one of the iTwin Connect halves becomes lost or stolen. The disable code is sent to an email of your choice, and provides a means of shutting the computer access off. Each new installation (or re-installation) prompts for a new code.

One other hassle while using the iTwin Connect has been with ZoneAlarm firewall, which would likely happen with other software firewalls. Each iTwin action will create a popup alert to allow or deny the connection. Each action. This is important to remember, especially if you plan to use remote access back and forth. But once each connection type has been established and authorized, everything is fine.

If you happen to be setting up iTwin Connect on a home PC and work PC, it might require one person at each location talking on the phone to clear out the little details.

Verdict

Anyone with a bit of technical know-how or dedication can set up and manage their own VPN with their computers at home. All the necessary software and configuration options are available within Mac and PC operating systems. The same applies to work computers as well.

The iTwin Connect provides all those functions in a little device so you don’t have to figure it all out. It’s completely plug-and-play and works on demand.

For convenience, it’s a neat gadget. If I have my home computer set to some tasks (e.g. defrag, file backup, etc.), I can use the iTwin Connect to check on the progress and continue what I’m doing, all remote.

But the heart of this device focuses on piece of mind and ease of use. When my wife travels for her job, I can hand her the one half of the iTwin Connect and tell her to use it whenever she is connecting to any wireless network out there. And she will, because she doesn’t want to bother with learning to set up a VPN and jump through those hoops. Inserting a USB device and choosing a tunneling method is all she has to do. Although she’s not entirely thrilled by not having full internet speed, she too believes it’s a small price to pay to ensure privacy.

 

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