If you live in the United States then you probably won’t get the Hulu.com reference, however if you live anywhere else, chances are you know exactly what I mean.
For those not familiar, Hulu is a popular video playback site from NBC that streams many mainstream television shows right to your browser. The biggest problem with the site is that it blocks access for users outside the continental United States. Hulu isn’t the only site in the world that does this either. Many sites restrict access based on the IP Address that you are currently connected with.
This is where Hotspot Shield comes to the rescue. Hotspot Shield is a free software download that allows you to use the internet anonymously – for both Windows and Mac computers. It works by providing you with a different IP address than you would normally get, allowing you to bypass country-type restrictions.
Here’s a look at just how easy it is to use.
Start by downloading the installer from the Hotspot Shield web site. The installation uses the standard wizard-type interface and I only identified two noteworthy items during the install. The first is that you should uncheck the box that says “Include the Hotspot Shield Community Toolbar”. Unless you are one of those people that loves adding more toolbars to your browser, this will provide you with very little additional value.
The second item I noted was that during the install you will see one or more Windows Security prompts that let you know that Windows can’t verify the publisher of the driver software it is installing. To complete the installation, click “Install this driver software anyway”.
Once the wizard completes, a browser window will open up taking you to the “Invite a Friend!” page. You are in no way obligated to do this. In fact, you can probably just close that browser window and continue.
You should now see a little green shield in your system tray that looks like:
It’s possible that it will be red depending on the current connection state (green is connected, red is disconnected). If the shield is red, you can right-click on the icon and the pop-up menu will give you the option to connect. The menu also allows you to look at the configuration properties and disconnect the Hotspot Shield.
Clicking on Properties in the menu will open a browser window and load the status page. This page shows the current state of the shield and the current IP Address being assigned. From here you can also disconnect the shield, or click on Show Config for more options and information. The extended config screen shows you how much data has moved in and out since Hotspot Shield last connected and the date and time of the last connection.
So you are now good to go. Reloading the Hulu.com site produces more favorable results than last time. The message about “our video library can only be streamed within the United States” will be replaced by a message that tells you that advertising can’t be loaded. Amusingly enough, they offer a link to get support if you can’t see the ads.
After 30 seconds, the ad message is removed and the video playback begins. The only downside to Hotspot Shield is that it forces an advertisement across the top of the web pages you load while connected. I can deal with that though, simply scroll the page down. :)
Well, there you have it. Hotspot Shield does a good job at helping you avoid country discrimination, but it has some other great benefits as well. If you are prone to using public networks (e.g. hotels, coffee shops both wired and wireless) then you can use this utility to help keep your data safe and secure.
The software essentially creates a VPN (virtual private network) between your computer and the AnchorFree Internet gateway. The tunnel created prevents hackers and would-be snoops from viewing your emails, instant messages, credit card information and anything else you happen to transmit.
What other tools do you use to make your Internet use more secure and anonymous?