Steganos Secure Traveler
Secure Traveler is the latest offering from the German security company Steganos, and it addresses a growing need as wireless laptops meet free public Wi-Fi service: a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Public Wi-Fi connections are open, unencrypted networks that allow anyone to capture the private data you are sending and receiving over the Internet. A VPN is a secure, encrypted connection between your wireless laptop and the Internet, but these connections have so far been limited to employees of major companies. With Secure Traveler, Steganos offers a VPN service to the individual consumer, along with a suite of security tools to help protect your laptop's data. While we think this is very good idea, we feel the price is a bit high.
From the Steganos site, we downloaded a prefinal release of the application and installed it in a matter of minutes. We were then asked to provide a valid license number and to activate the product with Steganos. These are straightforward and standard requests these days.
Steganos Secure Traveler runs on Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP, and Windows Vista (32-bit). Installation requires 100MB, and you should have at least 256MB of RAM. The price is pretty steep, but it's important to remember that you're getting a security suite of tools plus a VPN service. One month of service with Secure VPN costs $29.95, while one year runs $169.95, both are limited to 10GB of data transfer per month, which should be more than enough for most people.
Should you want to remove Steganos Secure Traveler, there is an uninstall icon (a rarity these days). However, upon reboot, we found no file folders for Steganos but several registry entries still remained.
The Steganos interface hasn't changed in years; it's still a simple blue box with six large icons. But there is no wizard, no tutorial, and no real help in setting started, which is problem. The interface is not very intuitive. You have to just start clicking icons, and even then you might not configure everything right.
When you double-click one of the six icons in the main control window, the icon jumps up and down like a nervous 5-year-old. It's cute the first time you see it, annoying as you realize you're not making any progress. Try as we may, we could not get the principal product, Secure VPN, to launch until after we activated the product and then rebooted the computer. The other icons--Safe, Portable Safe, Shredder, Password Manager, and Antitheft--all displayed their initial setup screens when we first clicked. We suspect this glitch will be fixed after the final release of the product.
Five of the six features in this product are available in other Steganos products. The main feature is the VPN connection, however, there are important enhancements to Steganos Safe, Steganos Portable Safe, and Password Manager which are worth noting.
Secure VPN is an upgrade and rebranding of the Steganos Anonym VPN that uses 128-bit SSL technology. Like Anonym VPN, Secure VPN includes a chart that displays your current data usage through the Steganos service. Everything you do online--connect to e-mail, surf, IM, log in to a Web site service--is conducted through the Steganos VPN tunnel. To further confuse would-be attackers, instead of typing in a pass phrase or a series of random alphanumerics and characters to access the VPN, Steganos presents you with a grid of photographic images, called PicPass. From that grid you create a little story. For example, choose the smiley face, then the apple, then the blue sky: The smiley face eats the apple while staring at the blue sky. Steganos found this example wasn't very secure (only three images were chosen), but you get the idea. Only after creating a Safe are you given access to additional configuration options, such as moving your Microsoft Outlook e-mail folders, contacts, and calendars to an encrypted drive so that others can't access your Outlook mail.
New Steganos Safe capabilities include the ability to use pictures as passwords and to create any number of secure virtual drives of up to 256GB in size, plenty of room for media files.
Portable Safe is similar to Safe but is designed for mobile environments such as CDs, DVDs, storage cards, USB keys and DVD DL media. New is the ability to create a Steganos Portable Safe on an iPod (which is, after all, a very large hard drive). You can also use the PicPass system to lock the safe.
Shredder is a feature that securely deletes files and folders on your hard drive by overwriting them with ones and zeros multiple times. This ensures that digital forensic tools will not be able to reconstruct the data you supposedly "deleted." And with Steganos, data can on USB keys now be shredded.
Password Manager allows you to keep an encrypted file of all your frequently used passwords. Like Steganos Safe, you can use PicPass to create a picture-oriented password to protect your password file.
Steganos Antitheft gives protection should your laptop ever be stolen. If you activate the feature, Steganos will assign your laptop a key. Whenever you are online, the laptop will send a signal to Steganos informing it of the laptop's current IP address. Should the laptop be stolen, you can go the Steganos Web site and see what IP address your laptop is using. This information can be useful for law enforcement to go to the physical address and possibly recover your laptop.
We didn't experience too many problems using the VPN part of the product from our public wireless test location. We also didn't notice much latency in page views when passing through the Steganos VPN proxy sites. We did experience a dropped VPN connection after five minutes of nonuse, but this was while the product was still in beta.
The Help files within Steganos Secure Traveler tend toward the light side, offering configuration settings but few details. Likewise, the online FAQ requires you to type in a question, which may or may not return any results. The lack of FAQ results prompts an online e-mail help ticket. Steganos, headquartered in Germany, does not provide telephone technical support in the United States, nor does it offer an online forum for users to answer their own questions.
We have generally liked Steganos for its innovative take on encryption and security. Providing a VPN service to those without and combining it with their existing vault technologies and a means of tracking your lost laptop via the Internet make for a compelling package. But we find the price a bit high for the average user.