Data Security and privacy is important to everyone – not just celebrities. This year, we've seen a number of high profile news stories raising the importance of privacy and data security, from the numerous celebrity nudity pictures leaked from Apple iCloud to hackers breaking into Heartbleed and Shellshock – proving that there are vulnerabilities, software backdoors and cyberthreats waiting behind every website logo.
While it may seem that we’re painting a scary picture here, there is a growing trend in people reassessing how secure and private their information really is. Users are questioning just how safety of public WiFi hotspots are. And, quite often it’s we, the user who are the weakest link, so taking simple steps like making sure you have different passwords for different accounts and services, is always a great idea. But for even more peace of mind, there are also applications like VIPole which can also help keep your messages safe and secure.
So how does it work?
VIPole is a premium secure instant messenger service which is designed to keep messaging, voice and video calls secure through the use of strong encryption algorithms – think Google Hangouts with your very own secret agent. Users can contact one another via the mobile data network or WiFi and the software handles the encryption side of things. And, VIPole will even offer the ability to call non VIPole numbers outside, although these will only be partially encrypted. There are other tricks for user which we'll explain later, but essentially the software is quick and easy to use on Android devices using Android 2.3 and higher. It is available from the Google Play App Store.
VIPole can be used between individuals or for groups. In group working, you can set up members as server managers, operators and administrators. For non-mobile users, it's also available for Windows, Mac and LINUX systems plus an Android client, however for this review, we will concentrate on the Android client side of the software. Here's VIPole's introduction clip:
The VIPole service uses AES-256 and RSA-3072 data encryption algorithms, which have been cleared for Top Secret encryption by the US Government. Individual keys are generated for encrypting data during transfer and storage when using VIPole. These encryption keys can only be accessed by users with the correct password and secret phrase. Users connect to the servers via a secure network channel using TLS (Transport Layer Security) technology. Hackers beware, VIPole servers are based in enterprise-class data centres in the Netherlands, benefiting from secure physical access and monitored 24 hours seven days a week by teams of network and systems engineers. So, with the exception of off-VIPole network voice calls, all data sent via VIPole is kept safely encrypted en-route between devices using the service.
How much does it cost?
There are three version of VIPole, one being free. There's a Professional and Business version too, costing from $9 a month for a user, although ask for a quote; discounts may be available for Enterprise or multiple users.
We tried and tested the free version, which comes with the promise of being free of life and gives you 1 GB of encrypted storage space. The only downsides to the free version are: local message storage is not encrypted, it does not allow encrypted video conferencing and you do lose out on some of the more sophisticated features, such as the ability to remote-close other sessions, and for 30 GB of encrypted file storage. These are, however, included in the Professional and Business version.
What’s it like to use?
We tested VIPole on a number of devices, including the powerful Nexus 5 (running Android Kit Kat, 4.4.4), the 2013 Google Nexus 7 LTE (running Android Kit Kat, 4.4.3) and the venerable HTC Desire S (running Android Ice Cream Sandwich, 4.0.4) to get a good idea of how well the application performed on different hardware. And, just to be thorough, we also experimented running the Windows application on a four year-old desktop equipped with an entry level Intel Core i3 processor, 4 GB of memory and Windows 7 64-bit.
In order to use the VIPole service, users must first install the application onto their device. Next, you need to create an account or sign into an existing one. You'll need your username, password and secret phrase (this is the second level of security we mentioned earlier and it can’t be the same as your password). By default, the application has a persistent notification showing in the top left of your device, which you might want to keep enabled.
In terms of Android application performance, VIPole performed as well as other messaging services; in a comparison with Google Hangouts, VIPole showed no noticeable difference in performance. Messages arrived just as quickly on both services, voice and video calls took a few seconds to negotiate the connection too. VIPole uses a trickle of data when not actively using the service, it’s comparably to running Google Hangouts or indeed any other messaging application (it's the equivalent of your device periodically checking in with the service). The application only appeared in the list of battery users when heavily used, such as video calls over the mobile network.
It’s encouraging, because Google Hangouts has the tremendous advantage of being able to piggyback the same socket (or connection) that your device uses to synchronize all of your Google services, including Calendar, Gmail For Android device purposes and VIPole has to create and manage its own connection to the VIPole servers. As seen with other apps, a poorly written application can make an obvious dent in your battery and data allowance! VIPole will keep all of your devices synchronized up and this means you can switch from tablet to Windows computer to smartphone without losing where you are in your conversation. We really, really liked this feature as it accepts how a smartphone is an extension of our computing devices.
One thing we did notice is that when Android or the user closes the application, such as swiping it away in the list of recently used applications, VIPole forces the user to log back in. Android will close tasks that have not been used recently and the issue is alleviated keeping the notification icon showing all of the time (as it changes how Android treats that task); it was never an issue on the Nexus 5 or 7 devices, which have 2 GB of memory, but it was something we noticed with the much older HTC Desire S.
Video and voice calling between devices worked great, VIPole's Voice-over-IP technology sounded loud and clear. The video calling menu gives several different options; here we're using the HTC Desire S, which features a low quality VGA front facing camera, connecting to the Nexus 5 over a sluggish and congested 3G network: this is the worst case scenario! Video quality wasn't great but voice quality was fine.
One thing we did notice was that VIPole sends images at full size whereas many other communications services send a smaller image, which uses less data but of course, images are at a much lower quality!
What do we think of VIPole?
Putting it together then, VIPole offers a comparable communications experience to Google Hangouts with some of the file storage and sharing functionality of Google Drive, under the protective umbrella of Government-approved encryption. From an individual perspective, privacy and security should concern all of us and from a business perspective, it's an essential ingredient. VIPole is well worth a look.