Security and privacy online are hardly new worries, but the wave of spying revelations in recent times has put the issue firmly to the fore. It’s no surprise, therefore, that a security and privacy extension for Chrome has proved to be popular – Berlin-based ZenMate has hit a million registered users just six months after launching.
The software encrypts and redirects your Internet connection via a ZenMate presence in the cloud, which further encrypts and accelerates it. The company puts its popularity down to providing end users secure and encrypted access to any website, from anywhere, and it has been described as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) with easy location switching. As a browser add-on, however, it doesn’t protect the whole computer.
Another significant bonus is enabling access to online content without having to get around geographic restrictions by choosing which country you want your connection to appear to be coming from – that means watching Hulu and BBC iPlayer or streaming Netflix from anywhere in the world.
That, perhaps, explains why, after initial growth in countries with restricted Internet access such as China and Iran, the recent surge in user numbers has come from the US and Western Europe. That’s not to say the noble reasons for using ZenMate are being completely overshadowed by TV shows, with a significant rise in users from Ukraine during the ongoing political turmoil – an increase of 23,000 – while Venezuela, another state hit by unrest, has seen visits up 17,000.
ZenMate co-founder Simon Specka said: “The Internet is a great place with many possibilities. Unfortunately, however, our Internet traffic is under threat from a variety of sources every day; hackers, prying Internet service providers, restrictive governments, ID thieves, and viruses – putting unknowing users at risk.”
For a six-month-old product, the numbers are certainly interesting: In January, global sign-ups were more than 200,000, with active users now in 170 countries. That includes 620,000 registered users in Asia, 205,000 in Europe and 145,000 in North America. The system handles an average of 1.5 petabytes of data every month with 18 percent from social networking platforms and blogs, 14 percent from video and audio streaming and 13 percent from ads and analytics. Mobile versions on both iOS and Android are set to be released in the next few months.
As the rapid growth shows, ZenMate does fill a hole in terms of offering increased security, privacy and connectivity while having a low entry barrier. Plenty of people are probably put off just by the idea of something like Tor, for example.
It does already face stiff competition – there are plenty of VPN/proxy server apps for different browsers, such as Cocoon for Firefox and Hola for Chrome – but it’s a market which will only continue to grow.
ZenMate is free to use for individuals for now, but expect a paid version in future.