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Email, social networks, banking: many of the things we do online require some level of security. This is relatively secure on your own devices, but what if you need to use these services on a public computer? It’s a good idea to avoid doing so at all, but sometimes that’s not practical.
And that, my friends, is where SurfEasy’s Private Browser comes in. This credit card-sized USB device works on PCs and Macs, and offers you a portable browser that connects you to an encrypted VPN. Even better: your browsing session is saved, meaning you can bring your tabs and bookmarks with you from one public computer to another, quickly. Even your passwords are saved, meaning you don’t need to enter them on sketchy computers.
If the name ‘SurfEasy’ sounds familiar, that’s because Joel wrote about their Android app not long ago. The SurfEasy Private Browser currently sells for $69.99, and comes with the VPN service – there’s no recurring fee. We’re giving five away, so be sure to enter our contest after reading this review!
Travelers know what a lifeline an Internet connection can be, but sometimes a data plan isn’t financially or technically feasible. Happily, in most places, public computers exist to connect you with the outside world. Most hotels, libraries and web cafes offer free Internet connectivity, but should you trust them?
The only real answer is “you don’t know”, but there’s nothing less comfortable than entering your username and password into a computer you don’t quite trust (Windows XP with IE 5? Really?). This is exactly where the SurfEasy Private Browser comes in handy.
This portable flash drive, which fits handily into your wallet thanks to its card enclosure, offers you a secured version of Firefox that connects directly to SurfEasy’s secure VPN. Connect to secure services, knowing your traffic is effectively invisible to everyone else on the network. Concerned about keyloggers? Enter your passwords using an on-screen keyboard beyond their reach.
The idea is a browser, on a portable USB stick, that secures your browsing when you’re using a public computer. How does it stack up? Let’s take a look.
The SurfEasy Private Browser is packaged quite well for what is essentially a USB stick. Sure, the box looks a bit like a pack of smokes, but it’s a good looking pack of smokes.
Open the box and you’ll see your card – some simple instructions come below it.
The card is the same size as a credit card, important if you want to slip it into your wallet.
Be warned: it’s thin for a USB drive, but a little thicker than most of your other credit cards. If your wallet is tight as-is you may need to remove a few things to fit this – it takes up the space of two standard cards easily. Still, once it finds a home in your wallet, you’re likely to forget it’s there.
The actual USB stick slides right out of its card, directly exposing the metal connectors to the outside world. It’s a little weird if you’ve never used a stick like it, but it’s thin and that’s what matters here.
So we’ve established that the device is portable, but how’s the software on it? Here’s what to expect. You’ll need to set up an account the first time you use it – after that, you’ll need only enter your password each time you plug in the device.
Note that SurfEasy provides both a Windows and a Mac browser, and both load quickly (depending on the system you’re using, of course). Your session from one computer, regardless of operating system, will be resumed on the next device you use – meaning your open tabs, bookmarks and saved passwords follow you.
Anyway, the browser. It’s based on Firefox 14 as of this writing (updates are automated), so it will look familiar to you.
Firefox extensions are compatible, but expect to see a warning. This service is, after all, about security.
It’s for this reason that all of your traffic is routed through SurfEasy’s encrypted VPN service – meaning no one on the networks you’re using can monitor your web usage. The Toronto-based company claims traffic through this browser is secured with the same level of security that banks use, and also says it keeps no logs of user traffic whatsoever on its own servers.
Another nifty touch: SurfEasy lets online services know which city you’re in without revealing your IP address. This means you’ll get local results from Google without letting them know your precise location.
You can pick which servers you use for the service:
Stick to something local for best speeds. Of course, everything is going through a VPN – speeds will not be as fast as usual, depending on your connection. But privacy does have its costs.
Another feature, mentioned previously, is the on-screen keyboard. While annoying, using this to type all or at least part of a password is a great way to avoid the risk of keyloggers recording it.
It’s a nice touch to a browser clearly designed for security.
It’s probably possible to build something similar using any flash drive, combining the portable version of Firefox and a reliable VPN service. SurfEasy’s Private Browser, however, is unquestionably an easier way to go – and comes on a perfect flash drive for putting in your wallet until you need it. Plus, you’d need access to a paid VPN for that to be reliable – and most would eat into the $69.99 cost of SurfEasy pretty quickly.
So if you travel a lot, or otherwise need to use unreliable computers to do secure things, SurfEasy is probably perfect for you. I’ll be keeping it in my wallet while abroad.
How do I win the SurfEasy Private Browser?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, September 6. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.
Congratulations, Carole Stoddard, Nero Tran, Andrew Wheelock, Jenny House, and Wendy Wallach-Zephier! You would have received an email from email@example.com. Please respond before September 12 to claim your prizes. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.
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