I’m writing a very long article on Firewalls because we just replaced our home Firewall and I was researching my options before selecting one. I was surprised to see how many new categories of Firewalls there are now. Many for home use and even some for travel…which is the category that Tiny Hardware Firewall falls into. Or, perhaps portable is a better term.
I’ve known for several years that using public networks was dangerous…but I never completely understood the extent of the danger. Nor did I know of an alternative if I had to use one.
Which is why I’m writing this post. I learned about a great solution for when you need to use public networks.
If You Don’t Want to Read Everything Just Scroll Down to Watch the Video I Label ‘Must See‘ Towards the Bottom and Read the Article Immediately Following it.
What’s a Public Network?
A public network is any network that is available for use without a password…meaning it’s unsecured and anyone can join it. So Starbucks, the airport, a business convention you might be at…any network that lets lots of strangers join it might be a better definition.
What I didn’t realize was that other public networks which may require passwords like at a hotel, hospital or a large clinic’s like Mayo in Rochester, and even onboard an airplane, may be equally dangerous. Because just a password only isn’t the thing that protects you…or the determining factor really. It’s whether or not the network is encrypted. And if it has a password there’s a better chance it’s encrypted. But non-password networks can also be encrypted…so it gets confusing. I think the safest way to think about a public network is that it’s any network that allows a lot of strangers onto it. Because for sure, it’s all those strangers that raise the risk factors a lot.
Although I didn’t understand how, I’d always assumed that when you entered a password to join a network that somehow made the network safe to use. But I was wrong…and the fact that my Facebook account has been hacked multiple times while on vacation and while using hotel networks with passwords should have been my clue.
I also learned that oftentimes using apps is even worse. Because so many apps don’t bother using secured communications. Pinterest and EBay are 2 good examples of completely unsecured apps. Last I learned that you can get into trouble even if you don’t use a public WiFi…just by leaving the WiFi receiver on your device turned on. You can learn more about that in this Time Magazine article. So if you’re using an ios device you can either turn WiFi off completely when your out, or turning on ‘Ask to Join Networks’ if you need to leave WiFi on is better than nothing.
Why are Public Networks Dangerous?
Once again I don’t understand the exact logistics of how hacker’s do the things they do on public networks…but I do understand some of the risks…although it’s quite possible that I’m not aware of them all.
These are the main risks I know about:
- Your account credentials can be seen as you enter them and therefore stolen…which is how my Facebook account was hacked twice.
- Your personal information can be taken as well. Whether or not that occurs as a result of your actually typing in or entering it while visiting a website…I’m not sure. But regardless this is a worrisome enough aspect for me to think twice about using a public network.
- Your web browsing activities can be watched.
The risks are probably greater than just those above…but I can only speak to things I know for a fact to be true. If you’re interested in seeing just how easy it is to hack someone’s device you can watch this YouTube video which demonstrates the 10 best Android hacking apps for 2017.
How to Protect Yourself on Public Networks
The obvious answer is to not use them. But that’s not practical for things like vacations when you need to rely upon hotel networks. Because generally your only alternative is your cell plan’s network which isn’t intended for high volume things like uploading lots of vacation photos, and can therefore become very expensive quickly.
You can take a hotspot with a better cell plan along with you and we do that too. We bought a Verizon hotspot and it’s great…but it’s expensive too. We have a small $50 per month plan because it’s monthly and many months we don’t use it. We could increase for vacations…but we run the risk of forgetting to decrease it when we get back home…so even this isn’t a great solution. We also tried 2 different ones that we just paid for when we used them…but they had huge problems. The monthly plan options just seem to work a lot better.
I recently discovered a much better solution which is the 2nd main subject of this post…using a portable Firewall which also includes a VPN. That’s exactly what the Tiny Hardware Firewall is.
How Does a Portable Firewall with a VPN Protect You?
The way you use a portable Firewall is by connecting it to a network and then connecting your devices to it. Because it stands between you and any dangers it can protect you in numerous ways which depend upon your preferences. It can offer security services which examine all of the incoming and outgoing traffic to decide if it’s safe or not before allowing it. It can include ad blockers and malware blockers. Last, with the addition of a VPN, it can keep all of your data hidden so no one has access to it.
Think of the VPN part like this. The Firewall connects to the public network then it uses the VPN to create a protected tunnel for all your communications to go through. So even though your data is traveling on a public network…it’s doing so inside this protected tunnel. No one can see it or access it. Your data is completely hidden.
Why is a Portable Firewall the Best Solution?
The main reasons boil down to speed and cost. When you use a cellular hotspot your using cellular network speeds…when your using a firewall your using true network speeds like those that are provided by broadband, DSL or Fiber. Cellular plans are expensive too and recurring. You never know in advance how expensive though because you can go over your plan’s limits easily and end up incurring huge charges for that. I know this from personal experience too.
A few years ago we arrived home from a Mediterranean cruise to a $13,000 cell phone bill!
During our cruise I had been in constant contact with our cell provider to make sure that we weren’t incurring large, unknown costs. I spent (really wasted) so much time doing that…because it took hours sometimes to even reach someone at our cell provider’s international division. But my actions were our saving grace too. Had I not done that our cell provider would not have ultimately reversed all those charges.
But Aren’t VPN’s Expensive?
There is an ongoing cost for using a VPN but it’s pretty reasonable when compared to a cell plan. Our Tiny Firewall’s chosen VPN costs about $100 a year. Because I can have up to 4 users on my Tiny Firewall at the same time, it’s like I’m getting 4 VPN subscriptions for the price of one. That’s equivalent to 2 months of the cost for our Verizon Hotspot’s service…which is the lowest priced plan Verizon offers.
Are VPN’s Slow and Hard to Use?
That’s what I always thought. But I guess things have changed a lot. I think a VPN’s speed is actually determined in great part by the speed and bandwidth of the network you’re using. So our network at home gives us 300 Gbps down and when I tested out the new VPN on it we ran two iPads simultaneously streaming YouTube videos. It was amazing! There was no buffering and the display quality was excellent!
Using the VPN inside our Tiny Firewall is super easy too. We just turn it on with a little slider button.
My Review of the Tiny Hardware Firewall
Using the VPN was super easy…but setting up the Tiny Firewall initially wasn’t. Luckily I had help in the form of the network consultant who was installing our new home Firewall.
I’m super lucky that I had his help, because I learned a lot about how these work and get setup. Now that I understand the process, I know I could do it…but I would have struggled before.
It took about an hour for he and I working together to get it all set up. Then after he left I played around with it for about a half hour to make sure I knew how to use it. I wrote a Step by Step guide for myself on using it, which I thought I would share here.
I probably could have set it up myself…but it probably would have taken me much longer to do. Maybe around 4 or 5 hours total. So, if I learn enough about that process to write about it…I’ll come back and update this post.
So my primary review is this. The Tiny Hardware Firewall is simple to use and amazing once it’s setup. It’s well worth the price of $220 that I paid for it. Part of that price is the $100 for the VPN which we’ll need to renew in 1 year’s time. The VPN which is HotSpotVPN is excellent and there is a support link for that if you run into trouble. The Firewall is also excellent…it’s got so many great features and it does some really cool things. That’s why I think the setup was hard, because despite the User Guide being excellent…the guide is long too…27 pages. It’s probably too long for the average user to sit down and read in it’s entirety…especially because it’s pretty dry reading and has a lot of network terms most people don’t understand.
You can’t fault a product for being too excellent!
Setup is rough however, despite the fact that the developers have included a very comprehensive User Guide. I think this is true because the guide uses so much network terminology that is complete Greek to a non-network person. For example, the Firewall operates in 3 main modes…Client Mode, Access Point Mode and Wireless to Wireless Mode. There are descriptions of what these are and even diagrams, but for people who’ve never done much networking, even those things aren’t really enough.
Personally, I think the developer should create a YouTube video that explains the setup process. It doesn’t need to be fancy or long, but it should show the screens involved and explain how and why average users would use the various features.
How to Use the Tiny Hardware Firewall
Once the Firewall is all setup, we’ll be using it in Wireless to Wireless mode. Which means we’ll connect to a hotel’s wireless network using our own wireless devices…iPhones, iPads and Android phones.
The Steps We’ll Follow Each Time We Want to Use the Firewall
Me Only – First login to the router to enable the VPN:
- Give the router power by plugging it in.
- Wait about 3 minutes for it to boot up.
- Join the wireless network it creates. (We gave this wireless network a password during the setup process.)
- Go to the IP address for your router using a web browser.
- Turn on the VPN
How Other People Get On to The VPN & Firewalled Network
- Go to network settings on your device and look for the wireless network the Tiny Firewall broadcasts.
- Join the network by entering the password (we also made up a password for this during the setup.)
- On ios devices turn off ‘Ask to Join Networks‘ so your device stays on the protected network.
Some More Cool Features of the Tiny Firewall
You can have up to 4 devices on the network at the same time. They can be hardwired using an Ethernet connection or wirelessly. There’s also a TOR network included which I’ve never tried but have always wanted to explore. TOR is the way hackers get onto the deep web…it’s a highly protective browser that keeps you extra safe and hidden and virtually untraceable. You can read more about TOR here and visiting the dark web here.From what I’ve read recently though the dark web isn’t really around much anymore, since Silk Road an infamous market for criminals was taken down about 3 years ago.
Where to buy the Tiny Hardware Firewall
I purchased mine from the developer’s website. I got the most expensive version which allows 4 users both wired and wireless…and mine has an antenna. Mine was about $220 including shipping I think. There are smaller, less expensive models too…there are four in total. Ours arrived in about 3 days via UPS and we had to sign for the delivery.
2 Great Must See Tools if You Want to Quickly Learn How Easily Public Networks are Hacked & How to Stay Safe”
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend learning more about ways to stay safe, this section includes 2 links which together should bring you up to speed on everything you need to know to understand the threats and to keep yourself safe. So, consider these links together as a mini course about public WiFi safety.
This excellent 20 minute YouTube video demonstrates an easy method hacker’s use to hack public networks with a device similar to my new Tiny Firewall (which is basically a tiny router.) At about 17 minutes in he show how to use a device like the Tiny Firewall for good to protect yourself.
This great article written by the FTC adds some more information you should know about for keeping safe.
Here’s a link to a great Wired article about the Tiny Firewall.
Here’s a great YouTube video that tells you a lot more about the Tiny Firewall
Here’s a link to the Tiny Firewall’s User Guide
Make Sure Your Home Network is Secure Too
Even when you’re not traveling you could be exposed to hackers if you haven’t bothered to secure the network that you use everyday. It’s not difficult to secure your network and it can be done in less than half an hour all by yourself. Nothing additional is needed other than you’re taking a little time to learn about why it’s important and how to do it. I wrote this guide for securing your home network, after I realized that somehow ours had become unsecured. Which tells me that this is something I need to check once in a while just to make sure my security is still in place.
I love to get feedback from my readers…so leave a comment if you feel inspired!