May 09, 2011, 11:56 AM — A free Android app designed to help dissidents to bypass China's Great Firewall is getting a lot of attention as one of the simpler ways to get some privacy on an Android device while using the web.
Getting less attention but offering far simpler access is a system whose base technology started out as a way to save data securely on a USB drive, but evolved into a way to create a VPN connection to data stored at home that is simple enough for consumers to understand and use.
SSH Tunnel is an open-source app that runs on Android and, when invoked, encrypts all the data sent between the device and the Internet, wrapped securely inside whichever cellular-networking protocol your own carrier uses.
You need root access and a bit of expertise, but getting it to work isn't terribly difficult.
By encrypting all the data destined for the Internet – including data showing where the Android device is right now – SSH Tunnel makes it difficult or impossible for eavesdroppers in airports or coffee shops to pick up your texts or emails or see the details proving that your conservative suit and grave expression may hint you're doing important work, while giving no indication to anyone who can't see the screen that you've spent an hour on TheChive.com.
(Incidentally, of course, the same encryption would keep corporate data safe while end users connect via public WiFi or cell nets, but that's much less interesting than being able to get away with sloughing off work without letting anyone know what you're up to -- especially the creepy guy in Starbucks using Kismet to turn his iPhone into a sniffer.)
Need to get to a bunch of files stored on a work or home computer but prefer not to carry your spare drive along or put them on an insecure laptop?
Given the varying security policies, idiosyncratic hardware and network configurations involved, I've only rarely been successful using software-only VPNs to get back into a computer I left back at the office.