Opera's free mobile VPN app is available to Android smartphones and tablets starting Tuesday. It brings the same risks to the enterprise that the iOS VPN app did earlier this year. Opera says the VPN is meant to protect end-user privacy. It does, but at the potential expense of workplace security.
The VPN targets WiFi networks. Opera calls the VPN fast and reliable. The VPN service itself is provided by SurfEasy, a company Opera acquired last year. The service is provided completely free, with no limits on how often it may be used.
To start, it includes a built-in ad-tracker blocker to prevent advertisers from following users around the web. That means it won't let the operators of WiFi networks drop cookies onto end-user devices. That's a good thing.
The VPN includes a tool for scanning WiFi networks and assessing their security. For example, it can say whether or not the network is public or private, and tell you if the network is encrypted.
Further, the VPN can figure out how many other devices are sharing the same connection, whether or not the IP address and physical location are exposed, and if the other network users can see the details of your device.
Once the analysis is complete, Opera VPN will rate the network with a score of A (totally secure) to F (really unsafe). Networks deemed safe may be used without connecting through the VPN, but Opera will recommend the VPN for any network that is insecure.
In addition to the WiFi analysis, Opera VPN supports virtual locations to help users walk around content restrictions. For example, it will allow Android devices to appear as if they are connecting from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, or the US.
People who live in countries that block certain sites or services will be able to access them through the Opera VPN. The VPN supports Arabic, English, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
For network newbs, Opera has given the app Olaf the Viking to help explain what the app is doing and why it is doing it.
"We have incorporated a Viking in the app," Chris Houston, head of Opera's SurfEasy VPN division, explained in a statement. "The Vikings didn't care about borders, and they sure weren't afraid of public WiFi! And with the right tools, they stayed safe. The Opera VPN app can help unlock online borders and is the closest thing to a Viking shield today's mobile users have for virtual self-protection."
Opera's VPN clearly targets individual users and not the enterprise. Your IT department should already have a VPN in place to secure mobile employees. The danger here, of course, is that your mobile employees will download and use the Opera VPN to access content and sites they're normally not permitted to from your enterprise network.
Opera VPN is free to download from the Google Play Store.Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio