Cargo VPN by Eltima Software
More VPN options are coming on stream every week, it seems, while China and Russia move to ban these services. What it VPN? A Virtual Private Network was initially used by companies to keep their internal communications secure. In the age of Wikileaks, voter fraud, hacking and malware, and various agencies tracking searches and information exchanges for political and social reasons, VPN services have become more widely available. Basically, with a VN running, I can sit in Auckland New Zealand but make it seem I am connecting from Sydney, Paris, Singapore … making it hard (or impossible) for anyone to nail down my actual location.
Another benefit is that it allows you to use ‘geolocked’ content. Can’t watch a US hosted video because you are located in New Zealand? Use VPN to connect from Miami or somewhere more hospitable to its geolocation options. Once upon a time, you could get a New Zealand Netflix account but then virtually locate yourself in the US to get a much wider array of content to watch – this became so widespread that Netflix was forced to put a stop to it (dang!).
If you don’t want governmental organisations to collect your data, use a VPN to prevent them from getting your online activities, communications, geographical location, IP address etc.
This bouncing around the world’s servers has a downside of course, and that’s speed, as we found in the review of Norton’s recent VPN offering. The impact can be dramatic, even under ideal conditions (more about this below).
Eltima software has been making handy Mac utilities for a while, like Folx which is a torrent downloader with search with a very usable interface, Commander One (a dual-pane Mac file manager), PhotoBulk resizer and watermarker, and SyncMate. Now the company has chosen to enter the increasingly crowded VPN market with Cargo. This has a couple of extra features: it can automatically detect when you are connected to an insecure public network and encrypt your traffic.
Cargo VPN opens with a handy overlaid guide to what each option does, to get you up and running (below).
Security — While at home or in the office, like any VPN Cargo guards your privacy for paying bills online, or when you check your account balance, log in to social networks or enter your billing address while shopping online. Based on your location you may notice different prices for airfares, car rentals, software subscriptions and even for online streaming services. Try shopping for these things with different country settings using a VPN service and you may be surprised how dramatically different prices can be depending on your geo location. For example, I have heard that if you use a service like Trivago or Hotels.com, if you go there once to check out a price and then return later, perhaps having made up your mind, the prices will have gone up because they have figured out you are returning. I honestly don’t know if this is true, but if it is, returning with VPN on means you won’t be marked as a return visitor.
There’s only one question I have – can anyone answer it? That’s this: does the VPN provider get to see your activity across their servers? Because if so, and they in turn get hacked … (Eltima reckons no). Speed — As I said, all this bouncing around the world’s servers impacts on connection speed, and how far away the server you end up using is, and traffic and the efficiency of that server all impacts further on speed.. The new Apple TV with 4K requires at least a 15mbps connection. Most broadband is better than that these days, but even 1 Gigabit Fibre can get choked down to near that low level via WiFi with VPN on as well. Quite why you’d want to use an Apple TV under those conditions is anyone’s guess. Streaming video content illegally? Sure. But public WiFi is usually slower than optimum, partly because it’s choked and/or old and partly due to heavy use.
However, Cargo promises access to over 1000 high-speed servers in more than 70 locations across the world, which ensures instant and constant access through Cargo VPN to any website or service from any continent. I tested it with Ookla’s SpeedTest utility. Via ethernet with WiFi turned off, I was getting a ping of 2 (low number is good), download Mbps of 938 (higher numbers are better for these categories – I have Gigabit Fibre through Vodafone, when it’s working) and 472Mbps upload (above image, left).
With Cargo VPN on, I got a very impressive Ping result of 3, but download of 59.1Mbps and upload of 55.5 Mbps (above image, centre). Another VPN I have, VPN Unlimited (I got this service on one of those cut-price online deals a year or so back) had a pretty hefty Ping of 267, download of 56.5 and upload of 54.8 (above page, right) – I hitched them both to servers in France for this test. As as you can see, quite dramatic speed drops, and roughly conversant with each other apart form the Ping, but there are so many variables involved it’s really not that fair to compare them. Internet traffic and conditions varies wildly second by second. At least we can see a rough parallel – using VPN, even over a fast ethernet connection, cuts speed to about a sixth.
Costs — Cargo VPN is a free app in the Mac App Store, (and there’s a version for iDevices) but you pay to add service. As this type of service becomes more commonplace, it has actually got more expensive. This isn’t cheap. On the good side, you could add a month just before that big trip.
A month of Cargo VPN costs (I assume US) $15.99. 1 year $80.99 (or $6.75 a month) and a three-year subscription costs 149.99 9 (or $4.17 a month). But note that one subscription includes up to 5 Macs in one account. Under ‘Additional slots’ you can add in an iPhone for $1.69/month, or 5 additional deices for $499/month, or 10 for 9.49/month, or click Yearly for yearly options. You can also buy a Personal IP (personal static IP) by region (Canada, Germany, France, UK, Bangalore India, Netherlands or USA and, safest of all, the Personal Server option for the Americas, Europe, Asia & Pacific or click the Special Offer button (currently there are deals for London at $52 per month, or $400/year for 1TB space on your own server, plus similar for Bangalore, San Francisco or Seattle).
Extras — One of the extras available that sets this software apart from others is the Censorship Test. Click this button to initiate the test that gathers anonymous stats on web resources to see what’s blocked in different countries, available to see at the Censor Check website. You get a free day of the VPN subscription added to your account for running it – but you can only run it every 7 days. when I did so, 45 locations were returned as a result with no blockages.
Conclusion — Cargo VPN seems a worthy contender in this increasingly busy field, but out on the road, you’re basically paying to have an even slower connection. I’d have to ask myself, how many times have I actually heard of people getting their data hijacked while they’re sitting in internet cafés, airports or hotels? I can’t actually recall any. It makes more sense to use one because you’re exploring the Dark Web, looking at things you shouldn’t be looking at, making statements and/or plans that security services might find interesting or exchanging privileged information. Not just to keep it secure from security agencies, of course, but also from hackers and scammers.
And here’s a sobering thought for you: while it’s true that internet surveillance by various agencies the world over is increasing, and while various agencies and governments are trying to curtail the use of VPNs (thus proving its effectiveness), you can be damned sure that the denizens of those governments and agencies are all using VPN themselves.
What’s great — A solid contender with some nifty extra features.
What’s not — Subscription costs soon mount up.
Needs — International spies and those with more in their bank accounts than me (actually, anyone with reason to be worried about their online activities and tracking)
Cargo VPN by Eltima Software, free in the Mac App Store and App Store for iPhone/iPad. One month subscription US$15.99, 1 year $80.99 (or $6.75 a month) 3-year subscription 149.99 9 (or $4.17 a month) plus additional services available, explained at the bottom of this page.
More info — Eltima Software.