Wi-Fi connectivity is almost ubiquitous, and we rely on it daily, but it's still a digital jungle out there—one where hackers regularly steal sensitive information from often unsuspecting users. If you're working remotely and need to access the internet, doing so from an unsecured public network such as a coffee shop, hotel, or airport Wi-Fi hotspot could put your data, your client's businesses, and your reputation at stake.
A VPN (virtual private network) allows you to securely access a private network remotely through a public one. Just as a firewall protects your computer at home or in the office, a VPN protects it when you access the internet remotely. A VPN, technically a WAN (wide-area network), encrypts and reroutes your data flow. As a user, you see no difference, but your data is now shielded from prying eyes. Even if snoopers managed to pull off some of the transmitted data, they'd be unable to access them because of encryption.
VPNs also allow you to "spoof" your physical location—your actual IP address is replaced by the VPN provider—allowing you to bypass content filters. Example: Many sites restrict access by country of origin. Assume you're traveling and need to access client data from a cloud-based platform. The VPN system lets you tell the provider you're in the good old USA while you're actually half a world away—that's where the first app, TunnelBear, comes into play.
The second app in this month's column helps make group texting a whole lot easier.
PROTECT YOUR DATA WITH TUNNELBEAR VPN
TunnelBear automates almost every facet of using a VPN. After it's downloaded and installed, simply launch the app. Once signed in (the app will need permission to automatically modify some settings), you just click to turn on the VPN. You'll then see a VPN icon on the top status bar of your device. From here on out, you are operating under TunnelBear's invisibility cloak. Select from one of nearly 20 countries from which you'd like to have your internet traffic "originate" and you're done.
TunnelBear's free account provides just 500 megabytes per month. I can blow through 500MB just checking my email and Facebook feed! Fortunately, subscriptions are based on time rather than volume. Fees range from $6.99 per month to $49.99 for a yearly plan, depending on the number and type of devices.
- Website: tunnelbear.com
- Cost: $6.99/month; $49.99/year
- Operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS X
EASY GROUP OPENS THE DOOR TO MORE EFFICIENT TEXTING
If you're a frequent texter, you've no doubt discovered the "group" concept that's so handy in email is missing in the text platform. While you can direct a single text to multiple people, it's a "one and done" proposition. If your group consists of more than just a few individuals, the idea of remembering who's included, not to mention inputting all of them again, is objectionable, at best. Easy Group solves this problem. Open the app, sign in, and select "My Groups." To add a group, first give it a name and then select members from a dropdown list of your contacts. Each recipient must be in your contact list before being added to a group in Easy Group. Once you've selected the members, you're ready to message the group. Click on "Message," choose the appropriate "Group," and Easy Group opens the MMS app and places all the group members in the "TO" box. (Note that iOS limits group texts to 20 recipients.) Just add your message and send. There are similar programs in the Android world—GroupMe is a free one and a fair analog to the iOS-only Easy Group app. But be aware that MMS texting is one area where iOS and Android just don't play well. You can send and receive "inter-platform," but many of the group features are "intra-platform" only.
- Website: iphone-easy-group.com
- Cost: Basic is free, with a $1.99 Silver package and a $4.99 Gold option
- Operating system: iOS
Greg LaFollette (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the AICPA.