WiFi hotspots in cafés, hotels, and transport hubs enable you to connect to the internet without having to sit in a cold, inhospitable internet café and use a provided computer. Connecting from your own device means you can have access to all of your files without the need to transfer everything back and forth on a memory stick. WiFi hotspots are godsends, but they are also false friends.
When you log in to a WiFi hotspot, you are joining a local area network. The connection between you and your email server, or any websites you surf to, is mediated by a router, which is owned by someone else. If you have just walked in off the street, you don’t know who is controlling the router and what access that device could have to your computer.
Routers act as firewalls because they communicate with the outside world on your behalf – your device only exchanges messages with the router. That configuration helps the WiFi provider filter out any malicious software that could otherwise sneak onto your computer or smartphone. However, all the access security is directed towards the outside world. The router does not apply the same level of privacy within the network it serves, which makes your device vulnerable to other computers sharing the same hotspot.
The hotspot scenario also enables the controller of the router to block access to any websites that the owner lists.
Thus, WiFi hotspots give you a false sense of security. They can also block your access to certain sites. The solution to these challenges is to install your own VPN. If you apply your own encryption system to all messages leaving your computer, there is no way that anyone else connected, or the router itself, can access your connection. A VPN can also easily bypass any internet access filters.
When you search for a VPN for WiFi hotspots, you should prioritize the following attributes:
• Price – get a fully protective VPN, but don’t pay through the nose
• The VPN’s reputation – you don’t want to invite in a hacker disguised as a VPN service
• An international server network so you can access the web wherever you travel
• High speeds, so you can still access streaming video, despite the extra layer of security
• Usability, so you can use the VPN quickly, without having to know anything about computers
• Strong encryption to block snoopers
Searching through all of the virtual private network services that a search engine query will return will take you a long time. Fortunately, this review narrows down your search to just the five best VPNs for WiFi hotspots.
Best VPNs for WiFi Hotspots
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ExpressVPN is a frequent winner in VPN comparison leagues, because it is so easy to use. The company put a lot of thought into catering to non-technical customers, and it really paid off. The software installs itself, the user interface is easy to understand, and the customer service department is staffed by human beings who know how to talk to real people. Techies love ExpressVPN too, because the service’s performance is second to none.
- Servers in 87+ countries
- Blazing fast speeds
- Three simultaneous connections
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Mobile friendly
- Minimal connection logging
- A little pricey
VyprVPN is a good choice for those who might live in or visit repressive regimes. Many countries in the world put restrictions on certain types of webpages – in China, the banned list even includes Google. The owners of WiFi hotspot infrastructure can also add their own restrictions. If you want to use WiFi hotspots a lot, you may find you can’t do anything. However, VyprVPN is so clever at getting around access filters that even internet service providers (ISPs) that actually look inside each data packet can’t spot it. Opt for the premium package, which has all the features that qualify the service for the top five.
- Fast speeds
- Great security
- Three-day free trial
- Servers in 50+ countries
- Easy-to-use software
- A little pricey
Buffered doesn’t have the high number of servers that the other VPNs on this list run. However, its network is widely spread to ensure global coverage. Europe is particularly well served, because this is the home market for this Hungarian-based company. The service has a nifty feature for those who want to access internet services through WiFi hotspots – Port Discovery. With this feature, Buffered searches access routes into the hotspot to evade the paywall feature, so you can always get free access.
- Port Discovery feature for free hotspot access
- Optimized for video streaming
- P2P permitted
- Based in Hungary
- No activity logs
- Not the biggest server network
NordVPN doubles up on everything to make sure your internet traffic can’t be decrypted. The software that is resident on your computer encrypts everything and then repackages it to send it on to another server, which encrypts and repackages it again. This two-hop, double encryption makes it completely impossible for any snoopers to crack your security. The two-year subscription offer gives this service a far cheaper monthly rate than any other VPN on this list.
- Accepts Bitcoin
- Based in Panama
- Six simultaneous connections
- Great customer service
- P2P permitted
- Not the fastest provider
IPVanish is based in the United States. It has poured money into creating a purpose-built infrastructure that it controls completely. There is no chance that one of the servers that it routes its traffic through could turn out to be operated by a dark net pirate operation. The company takes no risks. The attention to technology makes this service fast, as well as incredibly secure. Their customer support department is highly rated.
- Seven-day money-back guarantee
- No logs
- Servers in over 59 countries
- Fast speeds
- P2P allowed
- Based in the US
VPN for WiFi Hotspots: Considerations
Hacking has evolved. The two greatest threats to computer security today are ransomware and “advanced persistent threats.” In the first of these, malware gets onto your computer and encrypts everything. You then receive a message inviting you to buy the decryption key. Without it, you have lost all of your music, all of your pics, all of your work. Advanced persistent threats are snooping scenarios where hackers get full access to your computer whenever they want.
Both of these attack types have generated headlines, with vulnerabilities in national agency systems resulting in scandals that create fear, embarrassment, and security breaches. Sleeper software is probably now resident on a large percentage of the world’s private computers. Waiting for what? Who knows?
When you walk into a coffee shop and connect to its network, the first message that you will see at the bottom of your browser is “downloading proxy script.” What are they downloading? Could they also be downloading monitoring software? Did your computer just become part of the hacker infrastructure? You just let a network device access your computer. Does the coffee shop own that router? How do you know that the coffee chain hasn’t done a deal with some great company that provides hotspot services completely free of charge? How nice of them. Why would they do that?
Protect yourself with a VPN!
VPN for WiFi Hotspots: Conclusions
People are too trusting of WiFi hotspots. Free internet is great, but you should probably know by now that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Learn to look a gift horse in the mouth and protect your computer with your own unbreakable security and privacy services, just in case the nice people giving you free access to the internet are giving you something unwanted as well.