Cloak: Secure VPN for the Rest of Us

Whether it’s at Starbucks, the mall or Motel 6, free WiFi hotspots are popping up everywhere. While you’re using those hotspots, you might unknowingly be giving away some seriously personal information to an opportunistic hacker or two, including your social network, email, and even your online banking account login credentials.

With personal information like that at risk, you might be tempted to stop using those free hotspots altogether, but an app called Cloak by Bourgeois Bits hopes to alleviate those risks by providing Mac users with a corporate grade VPN service built into a consumer level app. Read on to see if Cloak really is the perfect companion to public WiFi.

Using Cloak

The designers of Cloak wanted to make it really easy to use, and they succeeded. The app itself sits unassumingly in the menu bar, waiting to be activated. When you click on the icon you are presented with your connection status, the option to connect or disconnect as well as options to “Spread the Word” and quit; that’s it. There is really nothing to configure, just click connect and get going. The preferences are similarly bare, you have to option to set a hotkey to activate Cloak as well the ability to set up Growl notifications. In addition you’ll also find your account options, which we’ll touch on later in the review.

Using Cloak to browse the web.

Using Cloak to browse the web.

Cloak works independent of browsers or other apps meaning that whether you’re using Safari, Chrome, or any other browser, you’re protected, which gives it a leg-up over similar browser dependent extensions and add-ons.

That also means that Cloak isn’t limited to just browsers, it protects all web traffic on your Mac including individual programs. I found the app’s minimal interface is refreshing, you don’t have to worry about servers, encryption, or anything else technical, it just works. In fact, this review is being written at my local Panera using their free WiFi and Cloak. It’s fast, simple, and secure. If iCloud (nee MobileMe) is Exchange for the rest of us, then Cloak is VPN for the rest of us.

How it Works

Cloak’s interface is deceptively simple, beneath the hood there’s quite a bit going on. It works essentially like any corporate VPN, by using public Internet to access a secure, private network. They power their backend with the venerable OpenVPN which is an open-source SSL/TLS VPN implementation. That’s geek-speak for very secure.

Since Bourgeois Bits is a relatively new company I was glad to see that they do not host their own VPN servers, rather, they piggyback on AWS, Rackspace, Linode, Zerigo, and Gandi.net, which means that you should almost never experience any downtime. In addition, Cloak has technology which allows it to choose the server nearest to you, which should prevent your connection from becoming slower based on the location of servers.

While you probably shouldn’t use Cloak for watching videos, it can be done. Just remember the speed of Cloak is dependent on the speed of your WiFi connection. Long story short, Cloak is technically on par with many large IT networks. Bourgeois Bits has a much more in-depth look at how Cloak works on their website, which you should check out if you need to know the nitty-gritty details.

Where it Falls Short

Cloak goes far beyond a traditional proxy and I can easily recommend it for anyone who uses public WiFi frequently. That being said it’s not perfect. Thanks to HTTPS, Cloak might be overkill for most people and you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the monthly fee based on your situation. In addition, connecting to the Cloak VPN takes a while and when you are up and running the connection drops more than I’d like it too.

Connecting takes a while.

Connecting takes a while.

Finally, when you are connected to their VPN, Cloak only offers time tracking in lieu of a full usage meter, this is a bit perplexing as only the free plan restricts your usage time, the paid plans all charge you based on data usage.  While there are plenty of apps for the Mac which can monitor your bandwidth, it would be nice to see it built into Cloak.

Pricing

Since you are redirecting all your traffic through their servers Bourgeois Bits charges a monthly fee for using Cloak for more than two hours or up to one GB of data, whichever comes first. The plans offer 20 GB and 50GB of traffic a month for $8 and $15 respectively, which should be more than enough for email, social networks, and even some music or video streaming on a fairly regular basis.

Bourgeois Bits also makes free apps for the iPad and iPhone which share your Cloak account, you won’t have to pay twice, but the usage is shared.

The only real way to know which plan to choose is to monitor your usage of free WiFi, frequent travelers or regulars at coffee shops should obviously consider a more expensive plan.

Wrap-Up

Public WiFi isn’t safe and Cloak fulfills its promise to protect you, but at a cost. Only you can decide if paying the monthly fee is worth it. With new protocols such as HTTPS, the need for an app like Cloak might be less urgent, and many people will be willing to settle for a combination of HTTPS and the free TOR browser to protect them.

That being said, if you can live with the occasion service hiccup or slow connection, Cloak is the simplest and most comprehensive way to protect yourself when on an open WiFi network.


Summary

Cloak is a great way to protect yourself simply and securely when on a Public WiFi network, just expect an occasional hiccup.

9
  • A.F

    i think a VPN subscription from a decent will cost you about 75$/year, you don’t need and APP for that

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      True, but Grandma isn’t going to want to set that up, now, is she;) In all honesty, the app’s main selling point is it’s simplicity and I think it achieves that (hence my score), and while you could just get a VPN subscription, many less-technical users would rather just set it and forget it -and you DO need an app for that.

      • Vustom

        I don’t see how a Grandma would need a VPN anyways.. but okay. :)

      • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

        Perhaps Grandma frequents Starbucks;)

  • Michael

    Not sure how HTTPS could be considered a “new protocol” it’s been around since 1994.

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      It’s only gaining widespread adoption with services like email and social networks now. But, yes -technically it is old.

    • Victor

      Can you just give these guys a break? this was a very well written post!

  • Colin

    I agree with A.F., you can get a personal VPN for around 60-80 a year, no need for an app. And, there would be no usage limits either.

  • http://mygtacenter.com IT Support Los Angeles

    Do you know any service or app that does the same thing for linux? I recently started learning linux and I am looking for a vpn app or service that is compatible with linux system. thanks in advance.

  • http://peterc.mobi Peter

    Completely agree with Colin and A.F. In fact, with StrongVPN (strongvpn.com) you can get a VPN account for under $10. They have servers in many countries, works with the included VPN client in OSX, and no traffic/bandwidth limits.

    • A.F

      yeah you’re right, i’ve been a StrongVPN user for about 2years now, everything is great about it, speed, support team, price, lots of countries,

  • Patrick

    Check out ipredator.se for an anonymous vpn account. It’s located in Sweden and therefore no user data is stored by them… I have been using it for the past year and it works great from Europe (don’t know about connections from the US, but they have a great FAQ). To connect to it from OSX I use pearPortVPN from pearworks.com – it’s donate-ware.

  • https://www.getcloak.com/ Dave Peck

    Hi all,

    Thanks for the great review of Cloak — I built the app, so I thought I’d chime in here! ;-)

    We think that Cloak is an essential tool for people who want to stay safe on public and open wi-fi, and who want to do so in a simple and elegant way.

    While protocols like HTTPS are great, Cloak goes beyond just protecting you in the browser. All the native apps you use (like your chat apps and Twitter clients) are kept safe too. Some of them are secure by default; some not. It’s not always clear. We think it’s important to secure everything, not just the browser.

    There are of course other VPN services out there. We think we’ve gone way beyond what they offer by providing (1) a very simple Mac-like design and experience, (2) software that requires no configuration, installation, or fiddly bits, (3) an open and transparent company with killer customer support, and (4) a cloud-based VPN service unlike anything else out there.

    (That last point is pretty interesting. We run servers around the globe. Every time you connect with Cloak, it automatically finds the best performing server for you _for that moment_. If you’re traveling, or if network conditions change, Cloak will pick different servers to ensure that it all just works, and well at that.)

    For those reasons and more, we think Cloak is preferable to other, lesser VPN offerings. Plus we’ve got some great new stuff coming down the pipeline…

    So that’s all — thanks again for the review. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me an email: davepeck [at] getcloak [dot] com. Cheers!

    • RJHBookLinux

      Just installed it on both my Mac and iPhone, and it was perfectly seamless across the board! For the comments above, it goes well beyond the grandma scenario. I’m a developer myself, and in an industry that changes so quickly that you’re constantly spending free time staying ahead of the curve, time is limited. Could I setup my own VPN server, configure it, connect my devices and service minor issues every now and again? Sure I could. But thats not the point. I simply don’t want to spend the time doing it. With a bill rate of around $175/hour, it’s silly to go through the trouble when there is a solution that I just installed on my devices and got configured in less than 5 minutes. Everyone is different though..

      Thanks for the great solution so far, Dave! Very nice work!

  • Pingback: Trackback Replicas de Relogios

  • http://www.compareemailmarketingservices.com/constant-contact-review/ constant contact pricing

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a entirely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Great choice of colors!

  • http://wiki.opentuner3800.com/index.php?title=User_talk:Coriecourt312 Collin Litecky

    I tried to publish a comment previously, however it has not shown up. I imagine your spam filter may well be broken?

  • selene

    Dear… there are the vpn also in the mac apple store and are very cheap!
    I use vpn one click and is very good.

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow