A new entrant into the increasingly busy world of wireless and privacy is this pack by Norton, which promises to secure your wireless connection wherever you may, as of course the beauty of wifi is that you don’t need to plug it in. And it’s almost refreshing to get a pack these days, it’s kinda retro. In this case there’s nothing in it apart from some text telling you what to do and a long Licence Key.
But if you, as I do, imagine a wifi zone as a sort of invisible bubble, about 50 metres across in the case of wifi and about 10 for Bluetooth, within which connections can be made to the ’net, it’s a bit hard to monitor who else is in that zone and what interest they may be taking in your devices.
The way Norton WiFi Privacy does this is by the tried-and-true method of setting up a Virt
ual Private Network, or VPN. This is an arrangement whereby a secure, apparently (ie, virtual) private network is achieved using encryption over a public network like the internet.
Typically, your connection is directed to another server, not the expected one, ghosting across the networks, and most VPN services work on a subscription basis – this is no different, with the pack you can buy set to one year and available to be used on macOS, iOS, and also Android and Windows across five devices. So for a family or business trip somewhere for any length of time, this offers a viable solution.
Installation — Open the pack, visit http://www.norton.com/setup, enter the Licence Key, click Next, follow the on-screen instructions. This process installs the relevant software for whatever device you are on. You (inevitably, these days) have to set up an account, or log in if you already have one, click on Enter a new Product Key, you get asked to set up Automatic Renewal (in other words, it takes money out of your account again in one year) but you can Skip, then click Agree & Download. The disk image with the installer downloads (it’s called NortonWiFiPrivacy.dmg), double-click that, drag the Norton WiFi Privacy.app file into the Applications Folder alias the installer puts in that folder for you (this actually installs the app into your actual Applications folder), drag that off your desktop and voila.
Make sure you remember to eject the virtual disk image just as you would a plugged in additional hard drive or USB thumb drive.
The app — Double-click the app and it will launch, probably asking for your (in this case) Mac password to complete installation, sign in with that Norton’s account you set up online, and voila, like most VPNs I was thrown straight off Netflix, as Netflix is sensitive to VPNs ever since it was discovered people were ghosting their connections as if from America to get a much broader selection of titles. The app is installed into your top-right menu which has the following options: the cogwheel icon that’s shorthand for Settings/Preferences, a silhouette of a person that takes you to your Account Settings, and below that three tabs: WiFi Privacy, Virtual location (where it appears you are connecting from) and Ad Tracking.
The first tab lets you toggle the VPN on or off by clicking the big round graphic in the middle; Virtual Location not only shows you where you auto-ghosted to but lets you pick a virtual location (from almost 30 countries) and Ad Tracking blocking is an extra feature – as most other VPN services don’t offer this.
Another VPN service I have, VPN Unlimited, certainly does not, just quick connections to VPN servers via security profiles in installs into System Settings>Network. This was one I bought for a fixed price for 5 years; in my case it was less than NZ$50 as I waited for a deal to appear.
Some of the VPN services out there look a little shoddy, and you don’t really know what you’re getting. Or who is actually managing your connection and what they can monitor. This is one by one of the most trusted security companies in the world, with a solid reputation. The ability to block Ad Tracking is a plus, but boy, does this slow your Mac’s internet to a crawl! In my case, down to a Ping of 588 milliseconds, download speed of 8.81Mbps and upload of 12.1Mbps over Gigabit Fibre.
Turning it off bounces straight back to a ping of 3 milliseconds, 270Mbps download and 189Mbps upload – dramatically faster (over Ethernet instead of WiFi I get download figures around 920 for download). Using VPN Unlimited instead, I get a Ping of 51milliseconds, download of 21.1Mbps and upload of 32.7 (all a little odd as normally download speeds are far better than upload).
All these speeds vary over time of day, network load etc, so it’s just an indicator.
In other words, over WiFi, Norton WiFi privacy cuts my connection download speed by 96.7%, whereas VPN Unlimited cuts it by 92%. Bouncing your connection around several servers, hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away in the case of New Zealand, is bound to lead to slowdowns. With VPN running over WiFi we’re ending up back at normal pre-Fibre broadband speeds instead of the rocket speeds we have been able to get over Fibre in the last couple of years. Fine for safe email delivery, sure, and logging onto that bank account, but if you were trying to watch a movie in iTunes somewhere in safety, you’d be tearing your hair out.
Just for the sake of argument, VPN Unlimited over Ethernet instead of WiFi gives me a download speed of 35.9 and upload of 57.1. With Norton’s VPN running, this was better: Ping 74, download 120Mbps and upload 117Mbps, so in this case, using it with Ethernet instead of over WiFi is definitely preferable. (As I’ve said before, wired connections will always be faster – however, in hotels etc, and definitely in cafés and airports, you will almost never have access to a wired connection.)
Conclusion — Despite all that potential security and protection, you’d really want to hope Norton can make this faster.
What’s great — A trusted brand
What’s not — Big slowdown once running
Needs — People needing coverage over several different devices (as the single user price is not as cost effective)
Norton WiFi Privacy NZ$139.99 for 5 users (3 users $119.99, 1 user $89.99)
System — Current and previous two versions of macOS and iOS (and Android 4.0.3 or later, Windows 8 to 10)
More info — Norton NZ