WiFi hotspots are notorious for being hotbeds of illicit activity, especially for carrying out attacks by hackers. Without the proper security software, you could be setting yourself up for a huge fall, and playing right into a hacker’s trap. So the next time you settle down in a cozy coffee shop and log into the WiFi, you had better make sure your computer is protected
There are a myriad of ways and attacker can harm your computer, too. But almost all of them can be circumvented by simply using a VPN tunnel. VPNs will encrypt all of your data before it ever leaves your computer, which makes it impossible for an attacker to intercept and read. Plus, a VPN will offer secondary benefits such as online privacy via IP address masking, anonymity, and security. But before we talk about the best VPNs for WiFi hotspots, let’s talk about some of the most common threats.
Security Issues Surrounding Free WiFi
Free WiFi has become a staple of our modern society. Whether we’re visiting an airport, a coffee shop, or a school campus, most people automatically expect free WiFi service. But you should be aware that most of these public locations aren’t secure. Even though Starbucks and schools invest heavily in I.T. departments to setup secure networks, public WiFi is fundamentally flawed.
Perhaps one of the largest threats is the fact that your computer is sitting on the same LAN (Local Area Network) that’s used by complete strangers. You have no way of knowing whether they’re trustworthy, innocuous, or nefariously launching attacks targeting your computer over the local network. Simply being in such close proximity gives hackers access to your data through the local wireless router, and they can carry out a wide variety of attacks.
For instance, a hacker can insert their computer between your computer or mobile device and the wireless router. Since all of your data first flows through their computer, the hacker can easily capture your data. And if it isn’t in an encrypted format, the hacker can read all of your web traffic. Though some websites, such as online banking, uses industry-standard security protocols like HTTPS, a lot of sites don’t use encryption.
This type of attack is known as a man-in-the-middle attack, and it’s relatively simple to carry out. Furthermore, there’s the treat of session hijacking. Free and easy to use tools like Firesheep can detect traffic on local networks whenever a user attempts to login to an online service and establish a session with a server. Using this simple tool, the attacker can essentially capture your login metadata to gain access to your account.
And lastly, there’s the threat of direct attacks on your computer. There are a lot of tools, such as Metasploit, that are designed to exploit vulnerabilities found in operating systems’ code discovered by analyzing local network traffic. How that vulnerability affects your computer really depends on where the flaw is found. It could allow the attacker to install software, such as a virus, on your computer. Other times, it could allow that attacker to escalate their privileges and start rooting through your personal files.
Whatever the case may be, the root problem is being connected to WiFi on the same LAN as complete strangers. The good news is that a VPN tunnel will encrypt all of your data, thereby thwarting a wide variety of potential attack scenarios. With that understanding, let’s take a look a the best VPNs for WiFi hotspots.
ExpressVPN – Complete Review
ExpressVPN is our first pick for Wi-Fi hotspots, and they offer great connection options such as OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP – however, I’d recommend from staying away from PPTP, especially on a public Wi-Fi network. Nevertheless, ExpressVPN has VPN servers in 87 countries around the world, and they permit up to 3 simultaneous connections per account.
They’re not the cheapest service on the market, but they’re not the most expensive, either. You can get ExpressVPN for as little as $8.32 per month with a 1-year subscription. I wish they had a free trial, but they help remove risk for their customers by providing a 30-day money back guarantee.
Private Internet Access – Complete Review
PIA VPN is our second pick for Wi-Fi hotspots, and they’re likely your best choice if you’re looking for an economical solution. PIA is one of the cheapest providers on the market that still offers quality service. In fact, you can get their service for only $3.33 per month with an annual subscription. And I really like how they permit up to 5 simultaneous connections per account, too.
To date they run over 3,100 servers in 24 countries, and they have a 7-day money back guarantee in lieu of a free trial. I wish the software interface was more advanced, but there’s elegance in simplicity and it’s easy to use. Last but not least, there’s even a DNS leak prevention mechanism built into their service.
TorGuard VPN – Complete Review
TorGuard VPN has over 1,600 servers in 59 countries around the world, and you can have as many as 5 active simultaneous connections per account with their service. They too provide flexibility regarding connection protocols since they offer PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, and OpenVPN connections. And they offer middle-of-the-road pricing that costs as little as $5.00 per month.
But I really like their extra security features, such as the stealth VPN feature that can bypass deep packet inspection by firewalls. It even comes with ad and malware blocking features and DNS leak protection as well. Last but not least, they’re a good alternative for people who don’t want a domestic US service, since they’re based out of Panama.
VPNArea is another great choice for people looking to secure their data on dangerous public WiFi networks, and right now they operate servers in 54 countries. They’re also great for technology junkies with a lot of devices and families because they allow 6 simultaneous connections per account, which is more than almost any other provider. VPNArea is modestly priced, too, at just $4.92 per month with an annual subscription.
They also have notable ancillary features, such as DNS leak protection and an included VPN kill-switch for halting downloads in the event of a tunnel failure. Last but not least, they even have a server load monitor that will help you connect to the least burdened servers in real-time.
VyprVPN – Complete Review
VyprVPN is our last pick, and they’re based out of Switzerland. They offer decent global coverage and connection options in 50 countries. There is no money back guarantee, but they do have a free trial that is limited by monthly data limits – though it is a great way to take their service for a test drive.
And with a 1-year subscription, their service only costs $6.25 per month. Naturally, it comes with ancillary features like a VPN kill-switch and DNS leak protection. But one feature they have that most of their competitors lack is split tunneling, which is sometimes called per-application tunnel routing. Essentially, you can choose which data is exempted from the VPN tunnel for improved performance.
We live in the digital age, and free wireless connectivity is extremely dangerous. The worst part is that you won’t always know if someone has stolen your data from a Wi-Fi hotspot, but the good news is that you can easily secure your connection with a VPN tunnel that costs less than the price of a fast food meal per month.
By this point in the development of technology, everyone really should be using a VPN tunnel, anti-malware software, and ad blocking software regularly; however, a lot of people forgo their security and don’t give it a second thought. Nevertheless, a VPN tunnel is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to bolster your Internet security virtually instantaneously.