These days, public WiFi is widespread, making the internet accessible all over the place. That extra connectivity comes with a risk, because people using the same WiFi can easily hack unprotected users. The solution is a VPN service. VPNs provide encryption and allow anybody to join a hotel, coffee shop, or any other public network without the risk of being hacked. With a VPN service’s encryption, subscribers can safely enter their bank, email, or social media passwords. They can even do shopping online because their data is safely encrypted and it is impossible for cybercriminals to steal their card details.
Quick Links to our best 5 VPNs for WiFi
The same applies when on vacation. Airports and hotels are prime targets for cybercriminals who are hell-bent on stealing. Logging in to an email account that you use for Paypal could result in a hacker stealing your details. The risk is incredibly high, and a reliable VPN is the only real solution.
Sadly, because there are around a thousand VPNs on the market, knowing which one to choose can be daunting. Most of the VPN services out there are rubbish, and provide outdated encryption that many cybercriminals could easily get around. It is for that reason that we have found the best VPN for public WiFi hotspots in 2017 (and four runners up). We are sure that there is an ideal service for people from all walks of life in this article. So go ahead and choose a VPN for protecting your privacy on public WiFi – it really is the only way to be safe in 2017.
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- Strong encryption
- No usage logs
- Servers in 85 countries
- Fast connection speeds
- P2P: yes
- A bit pricey – but worth it!
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for public WiFi for a number of reasons. Firstly, it provides OpenVPN encryption implemented to a very high standard. That means it will stop anybody from hacking you while you’re connected to public WiFi. In addition, it has DNS leak protection and a kill switch (which guarantees that the VPN doesn’t leave you exposed to cybercriminals on the public network if it drops out for a moment).
ExpressVPN has servers in 85 countries and those servers are all lightning fast. That means you will be able to stream in HD if you want. It also means you will be able to unblock content from around the world, or access geo-restricted accounts when you are overseas travelling. It can be downloaded for all popular platforms and can be used on three simultaneous devices. In addition, ExpressVPN keeps no usage logs, which means that even at home the VPN will keep your data safe from the prying eyes of ISPs and the government.
Finally, customer care is 24/7, incredibly helpful and will support you quickly and easily with any problems you might have. The provider also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for you to make sure the VPN works well for you.
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- Strong encryption
- No usage logs
- Servers in over 60 countries
- Auto connect and kill switch
- Fast connections
- Some connection logs kept for 30 days
VyprVPN is a great option for staying secure on public WiFi networks. It provides strong OpenVPN encryption (our recommended protocol). In addition, it has a kill switch and auto-connect feature that will reconnect you to the VPN if your connection drops out. The result is that, no matter what happens, you won’t be at risk from hackers over public WiFi.
VyprVPN also has servers in over 60 countries, making it perfect for all your IP address spoofing needs. VyprVPN can provide incredible speeds because it is part of the huge Golden Frog internet conglomerate and owns all of the servers in its network. That means it is perfect for unblocking HD streaming video content. Customer care is fantastic; it has live chat that is available 24/7. Finally, VyprVPN offers a three-day free trial to test the service.
- Strong OpenVPN encryption
- Servers in 31 countries
- No usage logs
- Fast connection speeds
- Great customer care
- Some connection logs kept
Buffered is an outstanding VPN that is perfect for staying secure on public WiFi networks. It provides strong OpenVPN encryption (our recommended protocol). In addition, it has an excellent feature called port discovery that allows subscribers to connect to public WiFi hotspots without the need for the password (from a hotel reception, for example). It is available for all popular platforms and can be used on five simultaneous devices.
Sadly, it has a few less server location options than the top two VPNs. However, Buffered’s VPN servers are in the 31 most important places that you are likely to need them. Customer care is excellent, connection speeds are superb, and no usage logs are kept. Finally, it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Strong encryption
- Excellent security features
- Servers in over 45 countries
- Zero logs policy
- Double encryption
- A bit slower than the top three
NordVPN is a highly secure VPN that will definitely keep you secure on public WiFi networks. It has servers in over 45 countries and those servers provide good speeds (though a bit slower than our top three recommended VPNs). Encryption is strong OpenVPN and it also has the option of double encryption. Plus, it has extra security features such as shared IPs, a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and VPN into Tor. Nord also has a zero logs policy, which is fantastic. Customer care is excellent with this VPN provider, and it has a 30-day money-back guarantee policy to test the service.
- Excellent encryption
- Zero logs policy
- Very affordable
- Fast servers in over 65 countries
- Apps for all platforms
- Based in US
IPVanish is our last recommendation for staying secure on public WiFi networks. It provides strong OpenVPN encryption (recommended) and has an excellent zero logs policy. Servers are located in over 65 countries and they are all super fast, which is perfect for watching video content in HD. It is available for all popular platforms and can be used on five simultaneous devices. It is cheaper than many world class VPNs, which makes it great for anybody that is on a budget. In addition, it has DNS leak protection and a kill switch built into the client to ensure you are always secure. Finally, it has an excellent seven-day money-back guarantee.
Best VPN for Public WiFi Networks: Overview
Using a VPN to stay secure on public WiFi hotspots is the best way to combat malevolent hackers who want to steal your data. However, there are also some general precautions you can take for staying secure on WiFi networks:
Set Network Sharing Options to: Off
The very first thing you can do is revoke your PC’s network sharing privileges. To do this in Windows, go to your Control Panel and navigate to: Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Now turn off file and printer sharing, and turn off network discovery and public folder sharing. On a Mac go to: System Preferences > Sharing and un-tick all the boxes. In addition, turn off network discovery.
This will stop your PC from too easily being penetrated on a public network (if you have those settings on you are literally inviting other users to go through your laptop).
Turn on Your Firewall
The next thing to do if you are regularly using public WiFi networks is to turn on your firewall (if it isn’t already on). It will stop people from poking around on your computer on any local network. This is important for usage at home as well as on public WiFi if you live in shared accommodation (for example).
On a Windows system go to: Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall
On a Mac go to: System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall
You can also custom set particular programs to be allowed through the firewall in Advanced. Remember: a firewall won’t protect you from everything, but it is a helpful start.
Use HTTPS Websites and SSL Whenever Possible
If you are using websites on public WiFi (in a coffee shop, for example) then you must use HTTPS to be safe. Most websites these days do automatically load as HTTPS. You are advised, however, to keep your eyes on your navigation bar to ensure you are visiting HTTPS sites. Also look for the little padlock on the left-hand side. If for any reason the padlock isn’t closed, leave the website at once and leave what you were doing until you are on a more secure network.
If you use a software email client (like Apple Mail or Outlook), you should also set it to SSL – do this in Advanced Settings.
VPN for Public WiFi: Considerations
Now that you have done the basics to keep yourself safe, let’s look at why it is important to use a VPN. Sadly, even if you have taken the steps above, using public WiFi can still leave you open to attacks. Hackers know all the tricks and if you are on a public WiFi network a number of things can put you at risk.
- Some sites and programs simply don’t have SSL encryption, and you may want to use HTTP sites that don’t have an HTTPS option (do check, because sometimes they have an HTTPS option, even though the HTTP loads up by default). In those cases you will want to use a VPN to encrypt your traffic.
- Cloning WiFi networks. Some hackers go to coffee shops, hotels or airports and set up a clone network that appears to be the real WiFi. If you connect to their fake network, the hacker can see everything that you are doing. Often, the real WiFi may need a password or require you to give some details (like an email address or phone number to receive an SMS). A clone will usually let you on without verification. With a quality VPN’s strong encryption you are even safe to log on to a hacker’s cloned network – because your data is encrypted, the hacker can’t ‘sniff’ your traffic.
- Then there is POP3 snooping, which allows hackers to access users’ email details when they sync to POP3 servers.
- Some hackers may attempt to make people pay for their publicly available WiFi network – stealing their card details in the process.
- Programs like Firesheep (and others) are a huge problem for people using public WiFi hotspots. It is an add-on for Firefox called a packet snooper, which lets ordinary people (script kiddies) with no hacking skills intercept unencrypted cookies sent from sites like Facebook and Twitter. This allows them to tag on to the user’s current session, and use the website as that user. In the very worst cases, the hacker might use the account to download unsavoury material, and could even change the password to the account (or delete it), thus locking the owner out.
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to get a VPN for WiFi hotspots. Sadly, however, not every VPN will do. There are nearing a thousand different VPN providers nowadays and the vast majority provide outdated or poorly implemented encryption protocols. PPTP VPN protocol secured with MS-CHAPS encryption, for example, must be avoided as it is vulnerable to “man-in-the-middle attacks.”
That is why all the VPNs that we have recommended provide strong OpenVPN encryption, to keep you fully secured on public WiFi. If possible, we advise 256-bit or higher encryption but in fairness that is very, very strong encryption and even 128-bit OpenVPN will protect you from hackers on public WiFi.
The VPNs is our guide all provide OpenVPN at high implementation levels. This means that your VPN is good for more than just keeping you safe on public WiFi.
Use a VPN at Home
A VPN will allow you to unblock geo-restricted content from around the world. Have you ever experienced a ‘not available in the country where you reside’ notification? With a VPN, you can simply ‘spoof’ your location to one overseas and unblock that content. However, doing so is technically illegal, which is why you will want a top VPN with strong encryption.
In addition, a VPN will protect you against governments’ overreaching data retention laws. VPNs encrypt all user-created web traffic, which means that ISPs cannot retain web browsing histories on behalf of the government. This is a hugely important factor, and with the Edward Snowden revelations proving that governments secretly snoop on citizens’ internet traffic, using a VPN in 2017 is advisable all of the time, not just on public WiFi networks.
Warning: If you do use a VPN to unblock the US Netflix catalog or access any other geo-restricted content, please be aware that you do so at your own risk. Doing so is in breach of copyright laws and could get you in trouble. For this reason, if you choose to do so, you are highly advised to use strong OpenVPN encryption that is implemented to a high standard.
Best VPN for Wifi Hotspots: Conclusion
In this article we have explained why it is so important to get a VPN for WiFi hotspots. The VPNs that we have recommended come out on top because they provide excellent OpenVPN encryption, have fast servers located all over the world, and are dedicated to anonymity.
These VPNs are ideal for doing everything you might want to do with your VPN. In addition, we are confident there is a VPN for public WiFi networks in this article for everyone, no matter what their circumstances might be. So, go ahead and choose a VPN confidently, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section below.