Create plug-and-play VPN with iTwin for Mac and PC, $99

Summary:For files too sensitive to be stored in the cloud, transferred by email or backed up on USB flash drives, the iTwin offers a handy and easy-to-use secured wireless bridge between two computers.

The award winning iTwin may look like another USB flash drive but it is anything but. It's actually a device that creates a military-grade, encrypted connection between two computers so that files can be accessed, edited and backed up over the Internet. Starting today, it will even link up PCs and Macs to make remote file access even more fluid.

This device comes in handy for situations where sensitive documents absolutely cannot fall into the wrong hands (ex. legal documents), where the remotely accessible files need to be editable, and sending files to a cloud service like Dropbox is still too unsecured even if it requires a password. Plus, USB thumb drives and cloud services typically have a finite amount of storage and can be costly for larger devices or accounts, so a single device that can bridge computers makes more sense.

How it works

I've been testing the iTwin out on two PCs and it mostly lives up to its billing as an easy to use device, especially considering the technology that it enables -- a secured wireless bridge on a (double-ended) stick. Here's a run down on how iTwin works plus my thoughts while using the device.

  1. Keeping the two ends connected, plug one end into a USB port on a computer with the files you would like to make remotely accessible.

    You may encounter an error message saying your local time and time zone need to be correct before you can complete installation. If that's the case, sync your computer's clock to "time.nist.gov" (the Microsoft server clock did not work for me). You would have to unplug and re-plug the iTwin to trigger the installation process.

  2. Give the device a name. This is particularly important if you will be using multiple sets of iTwins in an office.
  3. You will be prompted to provide an email address so that you can disable the connection over the Internet, in case you lose one half and want to prevent a stranger from accessing your sensitive data.
  4. When you see an iTwin window pop up on your screen, you can disconnect one half of the device and plug it into Computer B. By separating the device, it initiates a secured session that will kick in when the other half is plugged in as well.
  5. To make files on a local computer (I'll call it Computer A for clarity) accessible to Computer B, simply drag and drop files into the iTwin Local Window. Files not placed in the Local Window will be invisible to Computer B. Don't see a window? Open "My Computer" and you should see "iTwin" listed as one of the drives on your machine.

    Neither half is master nor slave so Computer A could host different files for remote access as Computer B. This is what I found most confusing about the iTwin. If you click on the iTwin icon on your Quick Launch bar, you will see that there is also a Remote Window that shows you what files you can access on Computer B, but there is no way to see both side by side. By switching between the two windows, you're able to edit files without saving multiple copies and sending files with complicated file names to colleagues.

  6. There is no time limit on how long the two computers can be connected. That said, I noticed one half would be unresponsive from time to time so I would just unplug and re-plug it back into the USB port.

    Done using the remote computer to access your office machine? Simply unplug your half but make sure the other half stays plugged in so that you can re-establish the connection whenever you like. Once both halves are unplugged, you would need to start at Step 1 to create another session.

Caveats

  • For the device to work, you need to keep at least one computer powered on and hooked up to a reliable Internet connection at all times, so it may not make sense for extended vacations or for the energy efficient.
  • The software on the device also prevents your computer from going to sleep but can keep running with the monitor turned off.

In addition to business uses like in a law firm or hospital, the iTwin also works as a wireless file sharing device within a home, especially for those who don't have the expertise to create a LAN on the home network. While not quite as versatile as a Virtual Private Network or Timbuktu where you can remotely access all programs and files on a secured network, the iTwin is relatively affordable and easy to setup for connecting one computer to another for file sharing purposes over a secure connection. In my opinion the software could be tweaked to make it easier to see both the local and remote folders at the same time but it's a minor annoyance. All in all, the iTwin is one of those gadgets that makes you wonder how it works but are glad that it just does so you don't really have to figure it out.

iTwins are available direct from the company's website for $99. Instructions to make existing iTwins compatible with Macs are available here.

Topics: CXO, Apple, Hardware, Mobility

About

Gloria Sin is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes about the tech toys that you can't live without for ZDNet. She has little patience for poorly designed user experiences, and is not afraid of opening the guts of her own machines for repair or hacking her gadgets for new uses.She has written for FastCompany.com, Popular Scienc... Full Bio

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