After the recent revelations of government data-gathering under the PRISM campaign, and the steady stream of new data-mining malware being discovered, it is more important than ever to secure your data.
Sadly, in today's post-PC world, this is now as true for data being stored or passing through smartphones and tablets as it is on laptops or desktops. With this in mind, numerous companies have moved to protect users from cyber attacks, releasing antivirus or remote monitoring and management security applications. But few, apart from the notable exceptions of Silent Circle and F-Secure, have really done much to protect the user from snooping hackers looking to catch data in transit.
Avast's SecureLine VPN aims to fix this and offers smartphone users a quick and easy way to encrypt and hide their activity from prying eyes. Available on Android and iOS, at its heart SecureLine is a basic package that redirects all data passing to and from the smartphone or tablet to run through a virtual private network (VPN). We reviewed the Android version.
For those who don't know, VPNs are secure lines of communication that set up a private network between devices across public networks. In the case of SecureLine, it does this by setting up an encrypted tunnel between any smartphone or tablet and Avast's VPN servers. When in the tunnel, data is protected and encrypted by Avast to ensure it cannot be siphoned or stolen while in transit. As an added bonus the use of the VPN hides the user's activities and location, making their movements invisible to the outside world.
This means smartphone or tablet users can start taking advantage of public WiFi hotspots without having to worry about hackers, over-zealous marketers or governments monitoring them.
The application is fairly simple to install and use, featuring a bare-bones user interface that has basic off and on options. Turning the option on, though, we were confronted with one potential concern: the app requires you to give Avast permission to intercept all your web traffic.
But before you get scared, we want to note this is a necessary step when creating a VPN connection and doesn't mean Avast is monitoring your activity. In fact, considering how much effort it would require, they're almost certainly not. The only issue is that it requires you to trust Avast to be secure enough to handle your data and theoretically means if a government agency or criminal had a way into Avast's VPN servers, they could siphon and monitor the data.
Once we agreed to Avast's terms and conditions, we were reasonably impressed with how well it worked. As we walked around London, the application notified us whenever we were about to connect to an unsecured WiFi network, asking us if we wanted to turn on SecureLine. But after we clicked to turn it on, on a few occasions the app could take longer than we'd like to connect to Avast's VPN servers. On one particularly bad occasion it took a good five minutes to connect.
That said, once connected we found the SecureLine didn't overly hamper performance or web speeds. The performance impact while web browsing was acceptable, with it generally only adding a few seconds to the time it took to load web pages.
This is good, as a staple criticism of VPN connections has been their tendency to slow to a chug when hit with lots of web activity. This is because the process of encrypting the data as it passes through can take a heavy toll on the servers and slow the transition process.
As a bonus, SecureLine also lets you choose where the servers you connect to are. This means you can use SecureLine as a way to get round regional restrictions to access blocked sites or services. For example, you could use it in the US to access the UK version of the Netflix film and TV library.
The only serious downside we noticed with SecureLine is that it's quite expensive. Avast currently grants users seven days of free access, but then offers it as a monthly subscription for £1.99. A yearly subscription will cost £14.99 for Android and £20.99 for Apple users. While this doesn't sound like much, there are cheaper and some free VPN services out there.
Overall, Avast's SecureLine VPN is fairly good. Having tested the service in London we found the VPN was fairly reliable and didn't overly affect web speeds. Thanks to its intelligent user interface it's also fairly intuitive to use. The only downside is its price.