Laptop showing Wi-Fi symbol.

Wi-Fi VPN: Security tips for free public networks

Public Wi-Fi at hotels, airports, and cafes exposes you to real privacy and security risks. Learn how ExpressVPN keeps you safe, even on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

3 types of Wi-Fi security risks

Packet sniffing

A hacker steals data from a laptop over Wi-Fi.

A hacker records all the data that passes between you and the unsecured Wi-Fi router.

Rogue Wi-Fi networks

A red router with skull and crossbones stealing data from a laptop over Wi-Fi.

A hacker sets up a fake network that masquerades as a legitimate network to steal information from unsuspecting users who connect to it.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

A hacker executes a man-in-the-middle attack over public Wi-Fi.

A hacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communication between two parties who believe they are directly communicating with each other.

How a VPN stops hacking through Wi-Fi

Let’s suppose someone is trying to hack your phone through Wi-Fi with a packet sniffing program. If the Wi-Fi is unsecured, this public Wi-Fi hacker may be able to read your traffic directly.

ExpressVPN prevents this kind of Wi-Fi hacking by creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and a secure VPN server:

What is VPN: Internet traffic running through VPN tunnel from user's device to the internet.

Public Wi-Fi hackers will be unable to read any data inside this encrypted tunnel.

Now let’s say you’re trying to connect to hotel Wi-Fi, but you accidentally connect to a hacker’s rogue Wi-Fi network instead. Without any additional security, the hacker can read and alter any unencrypted communication, or even inject malicious code onto your device.

With ExpressVPN, however, the encrypted tunnel prevents hackers from reading, injecting, or altering any data.

Wi-Fi hackers can also use a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack to break encryption and impersonate sites you are visiting so they can intercept your traffic without your knowledge.

Check out the video below to see ExpressVPN stop a MITM attack in real time:

Watch ExpressVPN stop a MITM attack over public Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi security protection on every device

ExpressVPN app UI on a range of devices.

ExpressVPN has apps for every device you connect to Wi-Fi, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and more.

Looking for VPN Wi-Fi security on your router? The ExpressVPN app for routers protects every device on your home or office Wi-Fi simultaneously.

FAQ: Wi-Fi safety and VPN

Wi-Fi (a play on “Hi-Fi”) is a local area wireless technology that lets devices network with each other over radio frequencies. Those frequencies are the 2.4 GHz UHF band and the 5 GHz SHF band.

A Wi-Fi network is broadcast by a Wi-Fi router, which allows multiple devices to connect to a wireless local area network (WLAN) at once. The router subsequently connects each of those devices to the internet. Most Wi-Fi networks are password-protected.

The distance and strength of a Wi-Fi signal depend on the environment and the router, but a single home router can generally cover an entire household.

A Wi-Fi hotspot is a physical location where you can connect a Wi-Fi-enabled device to the internet over a public wireless network. Wi-Fi hotspots are common in retail businesses and transportation hubs, such as cafes, hotels, and airports. These organizations and businesses install Wi-Fi routers for customers and the public to use.

While many Wi-Fi hotspots use WEP or WPA security protocols to encrypt your connection, others have no such security features, leaving you and your data vulnerable to malicious third parties. Whether a hotspot is password-protected or not, it’s a good idea to connect to a VPN when using it, which will encrypt all traffic before it leaves the device.

Hotspots can also be set up on smartphones, known as mobile hotspots. The smartphone uses a 3G or 4G connection to provide internet through its Wi-Fi chip to nearby devices.

Share this handy infographic, which explains the dangers.

The dangers of free wifi

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