Cloak: Super-secure Net connections without the hassle
By Dan Moren, Contributor, MacworldAPR 8, 2014 8:00 pm PDT
At a glance
Network security is a topic that makes many people’s eyes glaze over, and I can’t blame them. We all rationally know that we should make sure our information is secure, but for most of us actually doing so is probably one step below flossing, or keeping track of our receipts.
That’s why I’m so fond of
Cloak. And I’m not alone: Macworld gave the app, which recently released its second version,
a Best of Show award at Macworld/iWorld last month. The app and its attendant service make sure that your communications remain secure—and, best of all, they do it with little intervention on your part.
What Cloak does is straightforward: You designate certain networks as “trusted”—i.e ones where you’re pretty sure that people aren’t snooping in on your communications. For most people, that’s their home and office networks, as well as perhaps a few others. When you’ve defined which networks you trust, you can tell Cloak to automatically secure your connection whenever you’re not on one of those trusted networks.
How does it secure said connection? That’s where Cloak the service comes in. It relies on Virtual Private Networking (VPN), the same technology that many of use to connect to our work networks from outside the office. Since the VPN is encrypted, all the traffic routed over that connection should be free from prying eyes.
If that were all Cloak did, it would be a pretty solid app. But there are a few extra features in the mix that ratchet it up. For one, as I mentioned before, all this happens automatically: Once you get past the initial setup, you don’t really need to muck around with Cloak. If you’d rather be a little more hands-on, you can choose not to have Cloak automatically secure your connection on untrusted networks; you can also choose whether or not it treats cellular networks as trusted or not. (They tend to be less susceptible to interception than Wi-Fi networks.)
Cloak also syncs your list of secure networks and preferences between all your Apple devices, both iOS and Mac. So once you’ve updated your preferences on one device—say if you’re adding another trusted network—all you need to do on your other devices is tap a few buttons to sync those settings. Plus, Cloak’s interface is friendly and simple, letting you know via color-coded icons what your current network security situation is.
But perhaps my favorite feature of Cloak is an ancillary one. It’s a feature dubbed Transporter, which allows you to log in to a secure server in a different country. Why might you want this? Well, if you’ve ever had a hankering to try out BBC’s iPlayer, only available in the UK, or you’re a Canadian resident—or an American traveling abroad—who wants to watch the U.S.-locked content on Hulu or Amazon Prime, Transporter’s the way to go. Eight countries are currently available, including the U.S., UK, Netherlands, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia, and you can toggle between them at will. Plus, your connection is still secure.
Despite my generally positive feelings about Cloak, there are a few improvements that I’d like to see. For one thing, I’d love an option to have my iPhone prefer joining a trusted network over an untrusted network if both are available. For another, it’d be handy if a few more of the options were available within the app itself, such as using Transporter or disconnecting from the VPN while on a trusted network. But some of those may be limitations of iOS itself, which may themselves be lifted in time.
Cloak itself is a free download, and it works on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 7.0 or later. You will, however, need to pony up a bit for the service (servers aren’t cheap, after all!), which offers two subscriptions: an unlimited data plan for $10 per month or a mini plan (limited to 5GB of bandwidth) for $3 per month. All plans work on multiple devices simultaneously, so even if you’re using it on an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, they can all be secured at the same time.
If you only need Cloak for a limited period—you’re on a business trip, for example—you can also purchase a weekly, monthly, or yearly pass for $4, $10, or $100 respectively. And, if you want to try it out before you buy, the company offers a 30-day free trial.
Given how much of our daily life and business is conducted online, the question isn’t really if you can afford to sign up for Cloak—it’s if you can afford not to.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident.