Two weeks ago, you looked up a desk and chair for your home office. Adverts for great deals on office chairs and tables have been stalking you around the internet ever since. Such is life. But there is another way: use a VPN.
VPNs, or virtual private networks to give them their full name, provide an encrypted connection from your device to a remote server. They can be used by companies to give people remote access to corporate networks – as many have discovered during lockdown – but also can help individuals protect privacy by concealing location and browsing data.
It’s a boom industry. And now Mozilla is getting in on the action. The non-profit organisation, which creates the third most popular web browser, Firefox, is making its VPN available to the public after completing closed beta testing over the last few months. From today it is being made available in six countries: the Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and US.
Mozilla hopes its name will give it an edge in a market that’s highly competitive. “It’s a kind of a confusing market,” says Adam Seligman, Mozilla’s chief operating officer. “There are a lot of vendors, some of them are great, but it’s a pretty complicated market with complicated pricing. Our motivation is not to build some kind of highly extractive commercial business.”
The best VPNs currently on the market are usually from specialist companies. Exceptions include web browser firm Opera, security company Kaspersky and ProtonVPN from the same business that provides encrypted email service ProtonMail.
Seligman says that Mozilla’s aim has been to create a VPN that is fast and simple. “We put user privacy, trust and security first,” he explains. As a result the company’s VPN is straightforward. There is one button that lets people turn it on and off. The VPN is initially being made available on Windowns and Android devices. The app for iOS is in beta trials still, with macOS and Linux versions due to launch in the coming months.
Mozilla’s VPN connects to access points in 31 countries and 279 cities within them. Seligman explains that the VPN encrypts all device traffic and not just data that travels through a browser. If you’re using the VPN on mobile then the data that’s being sent from the apps you’re using – Facebook and Gmail, for instance – will identify you as being somewhere else.
To use the VPN you need to have a Firefox user account but Seligman says work has been done to ensure the VPN collects as little data as possible. It’s something that would seem obvious for a product that is designed to protect privacy but historically has not always proved to be the case. In the past year at least two VPN providers have handed information to law enforcement that has been used to identify people.
“There’s no in product analytics, we don’t embed mobile analytics or anything inside, and we think we’ve seen that some other VPN products, we have non-logging VPN servers,” Seligman says. “If any government asks for data, there’s nothing to see on the VPN servers. No tracking of activity.”
This will be put to the test as Mozilla has commissioned a third-party audit of its VPN and says it is planning to publish this when it is complete later this year. Mozilla is using the open-source WireGuard protocol – the company says both its API and client code is open-sourced. However, it is using the servers of Swedish firm Mullvad, which also produces its own VPN, to let people connect to access points around the world.
Buying or subscribing to a VPN can be confusing with lots of companies simultaneously offering different deals. There are free VPNs out there – but you should always be wary of a service you’re not paying for. Mozilla says its VPN will cost $4.99 (£3.95) per month, with the option to subscribe and unsubscribe at any point. One subscription can be used on up to five devices.
Matt Burgess is WIRED’s deputy digital editor. He tweets from @mattburgess1
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