3 Best VPN's for Public WiFi Hotspots in 2021
If you knew it was going to rain, you wouldn’t leave home without a raincoat, would you? If you were visiting a city like St. Louis in Missouri, which has a reputation for high crime rates, you’d probably take some precautions. It stands to reason, then, that you wouldn’t knowingly wander out into cyberspace via a notoriously dangerous public Wi-Fi without some kind of protection… but you have, haven’t you?
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Many of us use our cell phones and other mobile devices as we commute or shop or simply potter around the market on a Saturday morning. As we go, we connect to the virtual world via a number of public Wi-Fi hotspots, without giving it a second thought. More fool us!
Understanding Public Wi-Fi
You might be wondering why it’s ok to use your Wi-Fi at home without protection but not the one in your favorite coffee shop. The answer is that your home wireless network is closed and therefore requires a security key or password in order to access it. This means that only you and those people you give your password to can access the internet via your Wi-Fi.
In a public place, it’s a very different kettle of fish, however. Anyone within a certain radius can connect to an unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspot. Now, you Doubting Thomases out there are thinking, “Well, if I want to use the public Wi-Fi at the coffee shop on the corner, I have to enter a password, so that means it’s secure”. Sadly, that’s not true and nor is ignorance bliss – it’s just dangerous!
Even if you enter a password to access a public Wi-Fi hotspot, the vulnerability kicks in long before the login and it is the connection between your device and the hotspot that leaves you open to cybercrime, rather than anything that happens after that.
The encryption used for modern Wi-Fi networks is known as WPA2 and it’s, to be fair, pretty useless. Connecting with this method means that anyone nearby can access your information, even data that you thought was encrypted could be at risk!
Where is the Wicked Wi-Fi?
Public Wi-Fi networks and hotspots are popping up all over the place – even certain public transport operators now have Wi-Fi available for their passengers.
In an effort to keep yourself safe and alert to public Wi-Fi connections, bear in mind that you probably encounter public Wi-Fi several times a day. There are somewhere in the region of 340 million Wi-Fi hotspots in the world, or at least there were in 2018. Furthermore, over 50% of adult internet users admitted to having logged onto their personal email via a public Wi-Fi hotspot – seemingly oblivious of the potential security risks involved.
In addition to wide-ranging wireless networks, like the one launched in the New York City subway, you’ll find public Wi-fi in a variety of places, including bars and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, public locations like parks, shopping centers and malls, commercial hubs, and tourist attractions.
Why is Public Wi-Fi So Dangerous?
If you consider how easy it is for you to access free public Wi-fi hotspots, then think how easy it is for a hacker or other cybercriminal. These people spend hours on their computers and other devices every day, meaning they’re far more tech-savvy than the average person. It’s no wonder that public Wi-Fi is a magnet for cybercrime given how many unprotected devices can be connected to a single hotspot at any one time. For a hacker, each of these devices presents an opportunity to access banking details and passwords that, in their hands, are more profitable than gold.
Hacking is one of the cybercrimes you should be aware of but it’s by no means the only one. Let’s take a closer look at the perils of public Wi-Fi connections and exactly what threats they expose you to.
Top Security Risks
As an unsecured connection, public Wi-Fi makes it easy for a hacker to intercept the traffic traveling between your device and the internet. Once that’s achieved (and it’s really not that hard – look at this if you don’t believe us), a hacker can gain access to security codes, banking details, credit card information, personal messages, and a whole host of potential money-making data.
This takes hacking to a new level and occurs when the nefarious individual intercepting your device’s traffic creates a fake endpoint. In other words, instead of the information you’re sending reaching the site you think you’re on, it travels instead to the criminal’s device. Once that information’s in his possession, he can manipulate it according to his needs. In other words, he can eavesdrop on your business conversations, intercept real-time transactions, and steal personal data.
3. Fake Network
A more advanced version of a man-in-the-middle attack is the creation of a complete yet fake network. In this situation, you, the user, log on to a Wi-Fi hotspot believing it to be the legitimate wireless network operated by the restaurant or airport they’re in. Once connected to a false network, you’re basically giving your information away and making yourself vulnerable to innumerable security issues and potential identity theft.
4. Malware Distribution
Public Wi-Fi connections are an easy and accessible way for cybercriminals to disseminate malware, viruses, and ransomware. Because the network is unsecured, if your device is also unsecured, an attacker can send malware into every nook and cranny, leaving you with a useless piece of plastic in place of your cutting-edge laptop.
What’s to Lose?
You may think that, as you only access the internet to look at cute kitten videos and stay up-to-date with friends and relatives on social media, how much are you really at risk? Unfortunately, the answer is “A lot”. Hackers can still get hold of your geographical location and potentially even your address and phone number. It may not seem like a lot but it’s enough for someone to gain access to your device and potentially store stolen software there and give others access to it.
Similarly, hackers could take over your device entirely and use it to hack into other networks or target a website they dislike or even meddle with a government agency they have an issue with. Unfortunately, the digital footprint they’ll leave behind will lead law enforcement agencies to your door.
Any information you share online can, to paraphrase the Miranda rights, be used against you in the world of cyberspace and the following information, while innocent enough, may lead you into a dark web of despair and deceit:
- Your IP address and geographical location
- Your personal messages, emails and social media posts
- Files you send, including personal images and sensitive business information
- Your passwords
- Login details for websites, including banking and online shopping sites
How to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi
Now you know exactly what the dangers are, you’ll want to pull up your cybersecurity socks and get 2021 off to a safe start. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself on a public Wi-Fi network, some of which are more effective than others:
Only visit HTTPS sites
Most browsers now have an https only option which means you can only visit sites that have an https encryption which is one step towards a safer browsing experience. Unencrypted http sites make it easy for someone to intercept any data you share with that site so, for example, if you complete and submit a form, the chances are it will end up in the hands of a hacker rather than the company it was intended for.
Don’t Over Share
A public Wi-Fi hotspot that requires your email address or other personal information before you’re allowed to log in is highly dubious. While your email address may seem innocuous enough, when you consider how many accounts you activate using that address, you’ll start to realize how giving it out to every Tom, Dick or Harry could leave you in dire straits.
Given that the average American has over 100 accounts registered to a single email address and will regularly request password hints and resets using that address, bandying it around is simply asking for trouble. If you absolutely have to use a public network that requires such information to give you access, consider creating a Gmail or other similar account specifically for this purpose so you can avoid giving cybercriminals the choicest pickings of your accounts.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network is the best way of keeping yourself secure on a public Wi-Fi connection. By creating a secret tunnel for your data to travel through, the best VPNs encrypt everything, making it virtually unreadable to anyone but you and the person or site you’re communicating with.
I’m sure you’re all already searching for the best free VPN but save your data because, in the world of cybersecurity, you quite literally get what you pay for. In other words, a free VPN might give you some protection or it might steal your bandwidth, use your IP address for other users and any other manner of dubious actions.
To help you find the best form of public Wi-Fi protection, we’ve put together a list of the best VPNs for public Wi-Fi 2021. Take a look at the VPN providers below and see which one appeals most – we assure you, you’ll be as grateful of the extra protection as you are a decent coat when it’s snowing.
Top 4 VPNs for Public Wi-Fi
#1. Express VPN
You simply can’t escape the supremacy of ExpressVPN regardless of what aspect of a VPN you’re looking at. Want to access Netflix from overseas? ExpressVPN can help. Traveling to China and want to use Facebook? ExpressVPN can help. Want to use P2P file sharing? ExpressVPN can help. Truly, there is nothing this VPN can’t do, except make you a cup of coffee so, if you’re serious about cybersecurity, ExpressVPN is the answer.
Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN has proved time and again that it values its users’ privacy. Even in a court of law, ExpressVPN has been unable to assist authorities with information about their users, simply because their no-logging policy means they don’t actually have access to any of that data.
Reliable, high-speed connections and literally thousands of servers distributed worldwide make ExpressVPN tough to beat, especially with their efficient customer support and commitment to digital freedom.
ExpressVPN may not be the cheapest VPN around but does offer an excellent service and, therefore, impressive value for money. Another advantage is that, with their 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try the service for a month for free before deciding whether or not it’s the one for you.
Read our full review here.
#2 Surfshark VPN
While you’ve probably heard of ExpressVPN, or at least recognize the logo, the chances are Surfshark has stayed under your radar. A stealthy operator, Surfshark hasn’t been around for long, but it’s nonetheless proving pretty lethal. Not only does Surfshark give you a fast and seamless browsing experience, even in restricted countries like Dubai or China, it also offers military-grade encryption.
Although it’s unlikely that you’ll be sitting in a café attempting to connect to the internet with 8 different devices, if you did need to, Surfshark would be the one for you. One of the only VPN providers offering unlimited devices to connect simultaneously, Surfshark has found its niche… or its prey.
Consistent connections, high speeds, and a kill switch are all great features but, when it comes to public Wi-Fi hotspots, the best thing about Surfshark is its AES 256-bit encryption and an optional double VPN connection. With their focus firmly on security, Surfshark has inbuilt adware, tracker and malware blockers while their MultiHop function enables the user to transmit their data through two secure servers instead of one, doubling the security as they go.
The interface may not be much to write home about but since when did we admire a shark for its looks rather than its power?
Read our full review here.
NordVPN is another stalwart like ExpressVPN. If you want a solid service with top-class encryption, a true commit to privacy and a customer support service that’ll blow your socks off, look no further. With one of the biggest server networks in the world, NordVPN has a digital finger in every cybersecurity pie.
Panama-based NordVPN has a squeaky-clean reputation and excellent worldwide coverage. It’s a nimble service, capable of getting you through the Chinese government’s censorship, into the full Netflix library, and onto the latest live sports coverage.
Before Surfshark was even a tadpole, NordVPN were offering additional security protocols such as DoubleVPN and Onion over VPN. The latter of these makes it virtually impossible to trace, sending it first to a secure VPN server and then onto an Onion Router where each message is encapsulated in several layers of encryption. A challenge for any cybercriminal.
NordVPN is easy to use, with an attractive graphic interface, while retaining a sophisticated level of customization for more advanced users. Although NordVPN may not take the number one spot here, it’s highly recommended and surprisingly affordable.
Read our full review here.
There’s something almost eerie about how consistent CyberGhost VPN has been over the past eight years but, we’re not surprised – CyberGhost showed a lot of potential when it first came on the scene in 2011, and now it’s all grown up and offering one of the best cybersecurity solutions around.
Connections are reliable, speeds consistent and the customer support top of the range. Although the network was once a little Eurocentric, CyberGhost has remedied that and now has over 500 servers in the US alone. What this means for you are fast speeds and minimal connection problems which, in turn, means less irritating lag time on a public Wi-Fi network.
CyberGhost VPN guarantees their no-logging policy, giving you peace of mind, while offering a fully versatile VPN experience, including both streaming torrenting. CyberGhost VPN will also connect automatically each time you use a new connection, meaning you’re protected without even thinking about and especially when you’re at your most vulnerable.
Read our full review here.
We’re taking it for granted that you’re not willing to go out in the rain without an umbrella, so it’s about time you stopped wandering about in a public Wi-Fi network in the altogether. Cybercrime is on the rise and so is the risk you run every time you connect to a public network. It’s time to get your head out of the sand and get some proper protection with one of our recommended VPNs for public Wi-Fi.