The security-focused hosting firm WiTopia has added a bonus to its virtual private networking (VPN) service—a separate, free account for use with the iPhone or other devices.
WiTopia’s personalVPN service costs $39.99 per year, and allows any user to create an encrypted tunnel that protects their data in transit over local networks. The service requires the installation of a special software package, making it primarily useful for Mac OS X and Windows laptops. The additional account works on a broader array of devices, including the iPhone, by relying on a built-in VPN client.
VPN connections create a kind of encrypted tunnel between two points: All data entering or leaving a computer with a VPN client installed and activated are scrambled between the client software and a VPN server elsewhere on the Internet. This prevents data from being intercepted on a Wi-Fi network or another untrusted network, like a college campus system, where other users can sniff for passwords and personal information sent as plain text.
Three popular forms of VPN dominate the market, including PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol), L2TP-over-IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol over IP security), and a variety of SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) protocols that are lumped together.
The iPhone and Mac OS X handle PPTP and L2TP-over-IPsec natively, but WiTopia chose to use SSL/TLS for its VPN support. This requires the installation of a small software package and digital certificates, an impossibility on the iPhone at the moment. WiTopia co-founder Bill Bullock said that the service, while marketed for iPhone users, will work with almost any device. The SSL/TLS and PPTP VPNs can be used simultaneously by the accountholder.
The iPhone debuted this summer with some flaws and limitations to its VPN support. In version 1.0.2 and earlier, for instance a bug prevented the entry of a VPN password after the initial setup that had anything but numbers and certain punctuation marks in it. Last month’s iPhone 1.1.1 software update fixed that, allowing full alphanumeric password entry.
WiTopia is part of a small set of firms that compete for security-conscious users who don’t work for firms that offer corporate VPN service. Competitors include publicVPN, which offers both PPTP and L2TP-over-IPsec service ($5.95 per month or $59.95 per year).